CLEARWATER — When Larry McClellan left rural Indiana for Clearwater in 2009, he left behind friends, the intimacy of a small farm town and lots of snow and cold.
What he brought with him, though, along with his wife, Debbie, was 32 years of teaching experience, mostly in elementary and middle school science. McClellan, 63, wasn't about to let all that knowledge go to waste.
Last year, he opened a business, Mr. McWiz Science, a portable teaching enterprise complete with balloons, bottles, test tubes and dozens of other props to perform science experiments for kids in their homes. Most of the children he works with are between 6 and 12 years old.
McClellan is passionate about what he does.
"I keep teaching because I am really addicted to kids and making a difference in their lives," he said. "I haven't found a child yet who doesn't love science; they want to find out how the world works."
One recent afternoon McClellan's colorful van, the name of his tutoring service emblazoned on the side, pulled up at the home of Lisa and Anton Hopen of Palm Harbor. The four Hopen children, from 7 to 14 years old, were ready and eager to begin. A young friend from the community joined them.
Lisa Hopen is home schooling her four children and said she values McClellan's services. This was his fourth visit to her home.
"Most home schooling moms have a science curriculum, but they're intimidated by experimentation," she said. "He (McClellan) can do 20 to 40 experiments in a session, which we could never do."
The afternoon lesson at the Hopen home dealt with sound, a topic he had previously taught the children.
"What is sound?" he asked.
"It's the vibrations of air molecules," said Lea Hopen, 10.
McClellan swung a ruler at the end of a string, creating a whirring sound.
"What are you hearing?" he asked them.
"Air molecules!" the kids shouted out in unison.
For the next hour, the children engaged in experiments. They lit candles, tipped the necks of plastic bottles toward the candle, tapped on the bottoms of their bottles and watched the flame go out.
"The vibrating air molecules made the flame go out," said Anna Hopen, 14.
They shook bunches of silverware dangling from the end of a string and held the end of the string to their ears. They still could hear the sound of the moving utensils.
"Does sound travel faster through land, water or air?" McClellan asked.
"Land!" shouted 7-year-old Andrew Hopen as his siblings applauded.
Further experiments took other forms and McClellan took time to recap the lesson of each experiment.
Lisa Hopen took notes as the children worked. McClellan observed her doing so.
"It's exciting not only to engage the children," he said, "but to see the parents get caught up in the experiments as well."
McClellan currently has 25 students, 15 of whom are home schooled. Each group of children meets for one 90-minute session per week. The former classroom teacher is not just about home schooling, though. Some of his little charges attend public schools.
"Some parents want their children to get more hands-on experience than they get in their schools," he said.
He has other venues as well. His science experiments add a unique note to birthday parties for kids, and sometimes, he said, he is called by libraries and parks and recreation facilities for special programs. In July, McClellan will do experiments at the Tarpon Springs public library.
McClellan's website contains a video, a free science experiment and information on his business. He also has written three books for children, one of which contains information on 66 scientific experiments for children of all ages. The three books can be purchased through his website.
McClellan admits he never seriously considered golfing or fishing when he moved to Florida — he wanted to keep his hand in his beloved science.
"My greatest excitement is seeing children's eyes light up when they discover things in the world around them they've never seen before," he said. "They make me feel I'm doing magic with simple chemistry and laws of motion."
Elaine Markowitz can be reached at [email protected]