Saturday, July 13, 2024

Teaching science through chalk

Chalk in hand, he starts walking to the pavement. He draws a yellow path, then an orange tower foundation with purple representing the cables of the bridge. He brings it to life with blue lines for water and a yellow circle for the sun.

Today’s lesson: Problem solving. This and paying great attention to detail can be an issue for someone suffering from a stroke, which is why he decided a bridge was the best way to represent this lesson.

Many people have witnessed a man drawing chalk pictures on the Saranac River Trail behind Memorial Hall. Some of his drawings are pictures high school students would see in the science classroom, which is why most students and community members assume he is a science teacher.

Matthew J. Dalton, 55, is a cardiac nurse in Glens Falls. Two or three times a week, after caring for patients all day, he comes home to Plattsburgh and spends time doing what he loves. He goes to the trail adjacent to the intramural and practice fields and creates graphics to incorporate in his YouTube videos.

Dalton studied nursing at Clinton Community College and Plattsburgh State and business in Colon, Germany, as part of an excelsior program from SUNY Albany. He wanted to continue his education by attending graduate school, but he realized it was too expensive.

“I just wanted to learn,” Dalton said. “I go down to the corner book store in Plattsburgh and look around for an hour or two, and I’ll frequently find something.”

He searches for scientific educational textbooks. Since 2010, he has been using the topical areas of science in the books, translating those lessons into the pictures seen on the trail. Dalton uses those graphics to create videos in which he teaches the lesson to his viewers.

“The book that I am using right now costs $6.50,” he said.

Dalton has 419 subscribers on his YouTube channel “MyCyberCollege” with 566,511 views.

“People enjoy them, and they have made comments that they learn a lot from them,” he said. “I consider that I have a very exclusive free public college.”

Dalton has had a chance to enjoy a part of Plattsburgh where he can unwind from a stressful day at the hospital by making his videos.

“I do it here because there is endless space, and it’s public and quiet,” he said. “Some of my videos actually show the graphic, and then I pan into the Saranac River.”

He said sometimes there are spontaneous actions that occur that capture the theme he is trying to teach. This past September, he made a video with the topic of depth perception. He noticed in the far field the Ultimate Frisbee team was holding its practice.

“You have to have excellent coordination and depth perception to catch a Frisbee while you’re running,” he said. “So, this young guy is running and he leaps up in the air and grabs it, and that was the end of the video.”

Senior and ultimate frisbee player Ivan Kelber has witnessed the “chalk guy” making his videos.

“The first time I saw him, I was a sophomore,” he said. “I thought he was a high school biology teacher because he was drawing cell structures and stuff from his textbook.”

He has seen Dalton drawing completely different, more abstract images that weren’t cells.

Kelber, math and computer science major, uses “go-to” educational video-makers, not unlike Dalton’s videos, to help him with math concepts and computer science topics.

Communication Disorders and Sciences major Mary Runge said she also is a visual learner and uses resources beyond her textbooks to learn the material taught in her classes.

“If I could have a conversation with him (Dalton), I would probably ask if I can put in requests for any anatomy and physiology topics,” Runge said. “It would be so helpful because that is used throughout the entire major. If you don’t have that, it is hard to help people.”

Dalton has made videos by covering topics and their subtopics, such as neurology, genetics, physical geography, pathophysiology and astronomy. He has noticed the comments are mostly from medical and health care students who are taking chemistry and immunology classes.

He said that his series on neurology could help those students who are looking to get a “quick bit” of information on a specific topic.

“It’s really inspiring that he’s taken his own unique way of art and applied it to a new learning experience to benefit others,” Runge said.

Kelber said Dalton’s videos would be of great help to those who find understanding these complex themes to be difficult.

“Now that I know he’s a nurse, I definitely would suggest his videos to people who are struggling with those topics,” he said. “I probably will Google his videos in my spare time to learn more.”

Email Lisa Scivolette at

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