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It's Magic!!! Magician uses fun illusions to teach safety
Rural Montana
Even in 21st-century America electricity can still seem magical. Flip a switch and lights blaze. Turn a knob and gingersnaps bake. Press a button and Beethoven’s 9th fills the air. Powerful and invisible, electricity can be one of our best friends or deadliest foes—if treated improperly. No one knows this better than Columbia Falls magician Dan Jimmerson, who teaches Montana 4th and 5th graders how to safeguard against electrical accidents and possible electrocution.

Using simple tricks of illusion and his sleight-of-hand talents, Jimmerson enchants students as he relates steps that will protect lives. Between the gasps and giggles of his attentive audience, Jimmerson outlines how to avoid potentially dangerous situations whether flying kites, climbing trees, or using a hair dryer in the family bathroom. And, he explains, no matter how fast you might run electricity travels way faster. At 186,000 miles per second it outraces even a Marvel Comics superhero.

Over the past eight years, Jimmerson has reached some 15,000 students thanks to Flathead Electric Coop and the funding it provides to bring these lessons to schools. Performing card, rope, and balloon tricks and some of his other teaching methods may seem unorthodox, but nobody can doubt their effectiveness in conveying his life-saving message.

For instance, while 4th and 5th graders aren’t usually encouraged to holler, especially when school is in session, that rule disappears when Jimmerson stands at the head of the class. He memorably teaches what to do if they spot a downed power line or an open transformer box.

“Stop, look, and call,” they repeat and then yell in unison, but not loudly enough for Jimmerson. He teases them that some other school can shout better than that. By the time he’s done, no child in that room will easily forget those three magic words.

“Electricity always takes the easiest path to return to the ground,” he constantly reinforces during these 30-to-60 minute programs. After the kids list for him common examples of electrical insulators or conductors, they understand why they can be at risk. If they didn’t know before the class, they know by its conclusion that the human body is 70 percent water and water makes an excellent conductor of electricity.

Should a power line fall on a car that a student is riding in, Jimmerson illustrates how to handle that situation, too.

“Don’t get out of the car if the power line is on it. Only leave if the car is on fire or if a tree might land on it,” he cautions. He then has a student volunteer demonstrate what to do next should that look imminent.

“Jump as far away from the car as you can, shuffle or roll away,” explains Jimmerson.  “But don’t lift your feet off the ground till you’re away from the car.”

From start to finish, student involvement is key to Jimmerson’s approach in communicating these safety rules. Using magic as a teaching aid perfectly complements his message and readily lassos the students’ attention. And though speaking to children, Jimmerson never shies away from citing the consequences of becoming a human conductor, relying on real examples to make his point.

“You die if you’re electrocuted. Electricity enters your body and exits it burning up all your internal organs on its way,” he matter-of-factly states. “Before the invention of Ground Fault Interruptors, more than 4,000 people died annually because of bathroom electrical accidents or by putting a fork into a plugged-in toaster.” Jimmerson wants to ensure that his students never become one of them.