Daily Journal

TUPELO - Johannes Kepler remembers the years 1595-1600 like they were yesterday.

"Those were good years for me," said the 16th-century mathematician and astronomer, who "visited" students at Tupelo Middle School on Thursday.

Kepler didn't actually time travel to 2008 for the show. He was portrayed by John McFarland, 56, a retired schoolteacher from Charleston, S.C.

"I've been looking for ways to get back into the classroom," McFarland said. "I picked this because it was an interesting topic."

But why Kepler and not a better-known scientist such as Galileo?

"There are five fathers of modern astronomy, and I thought their stories would best be told by one of the unsung heroes," McFarland said, naming Galileo Galilei, Tycho Brahe, Nicolas Copernicus and Isaac Newton. "I also picked Kepler because he spoke German and so do I."

McFarland begins his presentations in German, stopping only when a pre-selected audience member tells him to speak "English, Herr Kepler!"

He is dressed as Kepler did, in tights, a lace ruff and breeches. Each piece was handmade, said McFarland, who also sports the style of beard Kepler wore.

"He looks so much like the picture of Kepler, it's amazing," said TMS science teacher Judy Harden, who asked McFarland to visit the school after meeting him at a science convention last fall. "He humanizes science for the kids."

McFarland's goal is to get students curious about science. "The buzzword in education is STEM, which is science, technology, engineering and mathematics," he said. "I'm trying to encourage these kids to pursue one of these areas."

In doing so, he not only tells students about Kepler's discoveries about the solar system, but also gives insight into the times Kepler lived in.

"Five-hundred years ago, people were very religious," McFarland said. "Very few could read or write. People thought that the world was flat."

Contact Daily Journal education writer Ginny Miller at 678-1582 or

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