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Remembering Bill

Science and Children—November/December 2020 (Volume 58, Issue 2)

By Linda Froschauer, Brian Diskin, and Matt Bobrowsky

Bill Robertson

Linda Froschauer
(Editor, Science and Children, 2009–2018; NSTA President, 2006–2007)

I was an elementary teacher for a great portion of my career, so I was aware of the difficulty elementary teachers have when dealing with a science concept that is not a familiar part of their scientific understanding. As the manuscripts for each issue began to flow into our review system, it was plain to see the conceptual obstacles teachers might face. Bill built his column around each issue’s theme, touching on those critical concepts that required background. I think I was rather tough on Bill. He frequently rewrote portions of a column to clarify points. You see, I had an advantage because I didn’t have the depth of content knowledge that Bill had. He had to make it all crystal clear to me by responding to my questions in his column. It was always so much fun to get a note back from him if I requested no changes. I could tell that he was thrilled to know that he created a perfect column! Bill knew that his column was the core of the issue, as one of the most important elements in creating a good lesson is an accurate understanding of science concepts—what the teachers know impacts every lesson. Bill always wanted to help teachers and he gave it his all to do just that…and he was so good at it!

Brian Diskin,
artist and Science 101 illustrator

I worked closely with Bill (well, as close as you can remotely) as his personal illustrator for 17 years on the “Stop Faking It!” book series and the “Science 101” column for NSTA, so I was presented with the challenge by the editors to say a few words about Bill. Drawing technical illustrations and a cartoon to make the deadline for the Science 101 column in a few days due to Bill’s procrastination was an easier challenge. I shouldn’t say “procrastination” as much as distraction. He was often distracted answering emails from teachers, doing workshops, and following the NCAA Basketball Tournament. When I did finally get the column, I was usually on the phone to him the next day asking him to explain his chicken scratch notes that accompanied his stick figure sketches for the technical drawings and the science concept for that issue. I am science-challenged, so the fact I called him to clarify the art and not the science says a lot about his abilities as an educator. I think his goal for mentors (parents and teachers alike) was to both know the science and know how to teach it. Judging from the packed workshops and long lines at book signings, he did a great job demystifying science for them also. As I wrote on his Facebook page, if it weren’t for you, Bill, a lot of us would still be faking it!

Matt Bobrowsky,
current Science 101 columnist

I had known Bill personally for about a decade, and, before that, I knew of him (through his Stop Faking It books) for a much longer time. I used his book on Force and Motion when I taught short courses and online webinars for NSTA. But where I really got to know him was through NSTA’s listservs for science educators. We agreed about many things, such as the folly of including hypotheses in teaching the “scientific method.” We also disagreed about a few issues, and those topics always made for interesting and lively conversations. We considered that our scientific banter also served to provide an example for other listserv readers (mostly teachers) of scientists’ reliance on tangible evidence when settling issues. One thing I can say about Bill’s online discussions is that they were always quite civilized. One of the most significant things he wrote to me during our many years of online conversations was not specifically about science: “You and I know how to have a conversation and disagreements while still respecting the other person” (4/29/13). It was an honor to take over Science and Children’s “Science 101” column from Bill, and it seemed very natural, as both he and I shared a passion for science education and working toward a more scientifically literate society. I will miss Bill.


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