DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — It was in July, four months after Iowa schools shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic, when Greg Barord finally found an educational use for the sidewalk chalk he had lying around.
The marine biology teacher at Des Moines Public School District’s Central Campus said he missed teaching and talking to students about sea creatures.
“I made some coffee, took the extra chalk outside, and just started drawing,” he told the Des Moines Register. “I wanted to use what I had to make something about the animals I love.”
He first drew one of his favorite aquatic animals, a nautilus, on the sidewalk July 16 outside his house, and also wrote facts and figures about the creature. And just like that, ”#sidewalkscience” was born on Central Campus’ marine science accounts on Facebook and Twitter, where students and families have responded with excitement.
Early on, Barord stuck mostly to drawing cephalopods — a group of intelligent aquatic animals including nautiluses, squid and octopi — and wrote brief but engaging lessons around them.
“With uncertainty about what education has been like, projects like this, sort of fun ways to keep learning — it’s been something I think a lot of people are happy to get the chance to engage with,” he said.
It’s become a near-daily effort that has been boosted by chalk donations from some community members, Barord said. That’s important since some lessons can take up to three boxes.
Barord is hoping the excitement will continue into the school year. Central Campus is kicking off the academic year Tuesday, Sept. 8. Marine biology students will have less time in the classroom than usual in the beginning of the year due to the school district’s hybrid model, which will have students split time between in-person and online classes.
Barord says he sees the hybrid model as both good and bad for his classes, where students usually work with aquatic animals in tanks and learn about the practice of studying and caring for animals.
“We’ll have to use our time a lot more efficiently when students are in the classroom,” he said. “It means we’ll be more deliberate this year, which I think might help students out ... but we also need to be creative in how to keep students engaged when they aren’t here.”
One way to do that, Barord said, is continuing the #sidewalkscience project. He said he plans to incorporate the art project into his classes for students to do at home.
“I think right now, we’re all looking for ways to connect with people in our community,” he said. “I think these sidewalk projects are great for that — the people on your block learn something new, and you get to have fun making art. It’s a win-win.”
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