As I was driving home this evening, I received a call from a fellow science teacher who shared the news of the passing of Don Herbert. As I reflect on the impact Mr. Wizard had on science education and me personally, I can’t help but be thankful for his dedication and contagious enthusiasm for learning science. It’s difficult to find a science teacher who doesn’t have a favorite Mr. Wizard story. A recently retired teacher loved to tell the story of how Mr. Wizard taught him how to cook a hot dog by literally electrocuting the hot dog using a lamp cord and 120 volts of electricity. I remember watching Mr. Wizard’s World on Nickelodeon in the mid 1980’s and being impressed by the simplicity of the experiments but also the way Don made you want to conduct the experiments at home. Don Herbert made a career out of making science fun.
During the late 1990’s, I was fortunate enough to get to work with Don on several projects, and I took the opportunity to ask for his advice as I started my television career. Don challenged me to do everything in my power to make science accessible to everyone. He reminded me to “be yourself… and don’t let those television producers put you in a white lab coat… just be yourself.” Don always preferred a casual sweater to a lab coat in his later years.
Don received an honorary doctorate from Sacred Heart University in Connecticut and I was invited to share a few science demos during his ceremony. While waiting to go on backstage, Don shared these thoughts on science education… “People call me a science teacher or a scientist, but I’m actually a science entertainer. I think of myself as a person who likes science and has the ability to communicate my enthusiasm about science over the airwaves. I really enjoy being a cheerleader of sorts for science… but I wouldn’t call myself a science teacher. That’s a job I have to leave to the pros.”
In place of their nightly bedtime story, I pulled my first edition copy of Mr. Wizard’s Supermarket Science from the shelves this evening for my boys and shared a few stories about one of the special people who inspired me to be a teacher.
Please click on comments to share your thoughts and memories about Don Herbert.
Visit the official Mr. Wizard website for more information.