Black cape flowing, Michael Ernsten scratched his well-shaped beard and flatly denied that he is a magician. He disavowed any association with sleight-of-hand techniques and claimed to have been coerced into playing the part.
But after 15 minutes of watching him operate, his audience didn't buy Ernsten's line. After all, no one but a real magician prompts entire classes of young teens to beg for the opportunity to share their knowledge of cold, hard facts.Yet Ernsten does it regularly, sans cape, as a teacher at Butler Middle School. Using the Deseret News as one preparatory text, Ernsten transforms his classroom into a television game show studio, complete with a multicolored light panel that tells him which "contestant" should be allowed to answer his wide-ranging questions first. He doesn't lack for eager competitors.
Ernsten demonstrated his wizardry Saturday for more than 160 educators during the annual Deseret News "Newspaper Magic" workshop at East Midvale Elementary. Using workshop participants as contestants, he convinced the group that a daily newspaper can do much more than line the family bird cage or clean dirty windows.
He and 11 other workshop presenters shared scores of techniques for using the newspaper to teach students of all ages such diverse subjects as math, science, health, social studies, geography, civics, economics and language arts.
Deseret News editorial cartoonist Craig Holyoak urged teachers to help students understand that one of democracy's strengths comes from divergent ideas. "No one ever said cartoons should deal in truth. Cartoons are opinions, and that's why they're on the editorial page. They're based on opinion and exaggeration, and nothing will kill a cartoon quicker than being fair."
Holyoak said it's important for students to view life with a sense of humor so they can respect others, in spite of varying beliefs or opinions.
Marlene Woolley, a Granite District teacher, said newspapers are an invaluable tool in maximizing academic learning time when constant interruptions plague many classrooms. Her specialty - teaching gifted and talented children - lends itself particularly well to newspaper use because as she uses the paper to teach one subject, such as current events, she can also squeeze in math, geography and social science by carefully structuring the lesson plan.
Woolley said the paper also helps teach critical thinking and problem-solving skills that will serve students throughout their lives, despite the rapid changes in technology. She also encourages expanded thinking. As an example, she asks her students to find news articles about events that might appear in history books 100 years from now.
Students then discuss why they believe the events are relevant to future generations and what makes people famous enough to be in the newspaper. "It's a real-world experience, and they learn that both good and bad deeds can make someone famous."
"Tuning In To Little People" was the focus of Nancy Larsen's presentation. A teacher in the Jordan District, Larsen shared her ideas for making the newspaper an integral part of learning, even for students who can't read well. Her focus on activities for kindergarten through second-grade students included skills such as word recognition, alphabetical order, categorization, estimation, nutrition and transportation.
Using classroom staples such as crayons, glue, scissors and staples, Larsen prompted her audience to place themselves in the students' chair by participating in her projects.
In addition to the annual seminar held Saturday, the Deseret News has an ongoing Newspaper in Education program, designed to help teachers use the paper effectively in their classrooms. For more information, call 237-2112.