“How Do They DO That?”

A Challenge for Your Students

I love street performers! Busking is a true example of #TLAP’s (Teach Like a Pirate) two essential questions:

“If they didn’t have to be there, would you be teaching to an empty room?”

“Do you have any lessons you could sell tickets to?”

You have to build your own audience from scratch by hooking people in who had no intention of seeing a show and are usually on their way to do something else. You have to keep them riveted and engaged because anyone can leave at anytime. Then at the end, you have to pitch them and convince them to reach into their pockets and pay you for a show they already got to see for free. That is tough work…they earn every penny!

I have studied busking and have done it several times in my life. Originally, I performed as a “popper.” I would wear an Adidas sweatsuit, a Kangol hat, and traveled with a boombox. I stood motionless like a statue until the beginnings of a crowd would form and would then begin popping. Later in life, I dabbled in busking as a magician. You find out very quickly what it takes to engage an audience when you are working the street. Not recommended for the faint of heart or the thin-skinned.

There are many types of street performers ranging from musicians, artists, magicians, jugglers, contortionists, acrobats, skateboarders, break dancers, etc. They are usually going to perform a “show.” Another type of street performer entertains by literally doing nothing! Human statues fall into this category…not as easy as it looks!

I was in London last year and was highly intrigued by the buskers who seem to defy all laws of physics. You can look at them from every single angle and as close as you want…you still see nothing! How do they do that???? As soon as I saw them, I knew it was a great challenge for students.

I immediately see science!

Put some of these pictures on the screen and have students brainstorm possible solutions. I would start by not allowing them to look it up but to rather engage in collaborative discussions. Have them generate theories and maybe even sketch out possible solutions. Discuss the physics involved and what it is that makes the illusion so compelling.

I think kids would love to explore how this is done. There are many resources online that show how to make these illusions…I’m guessing they will go straight to them when they get the chance!

How about challenge them to design one? What would be the coolest costume and set-up to be highly engaging and draw people in? What is the most deceptive and yet doable position? Sketch it out! Hey…maybe they can build it? Are the materials and construction too expensive? What about a scaled down model with an action figure? 

Let me know how the discussions go and I’d love to see some of their ideas! Feel free to post in the comments and/or tweet to @burgessdave and #tlap on Twitter. Enjoy!


PS: There are even 2 person versions like below!


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

4 thoughts on ““How Do They DO That?”

  1. I am going to teach a project based physics class next year. Definitely looking into this as an activity for students to do! I am envisioning a whole class set up in the hall!

    • That would be so cool, Tracie!! If you do it…let us know how it goes and we want pictures!!

  2. I love this more than I’m willing to admit! I don’t know if time/expense allows for full size just now, but I am envisioning flying Barbie dolls and levitating ninja turtles. What a great conversation starter for ideas like center of gravity or even opposing forces.

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