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About Chalk Boards
- Blackboard Technology and Chalkboard History Advances
In our present age of continually evolving desktop,
laptop and palm computers, photocopy equipment,
PowerPoint presentations, video displays, interactive
whiteboards, and internet access, it's startling to
realize that the "technology" to first influence
education was the invention of these black slate writing
boards (also known as chalkboards).
Whether they were in eastern academies or schoolrooms on
the prairies, prior to 1801, teachers and schools had no
means of visually presenting information to a roomful of
students all at once, no means of presenting large
concept and historical overviews for the entire class to
view, grasp and discuss.
whiteboards may seem
to us to have always been standard equipment in
schoolrooms as well as business boardrooms, but none of
these basic tools even existed in classrooms prior to
Supplies of pencils and
paper were often in short supply or unaffordable for
families. Without a means of making mass copies, hand
outs, too, were a rarity since the teachers would have
to hand a set for each of their students.
Students sat in schoolrooms
with handheld slates upon which to write assignments.
These were usually made of a wood board painted over
with black grit, though some were made of porcelain
imported from the United Kingdom. Teachers would then
have to go from student to student copying, for example,
a math problem onto each student's individual slate.
Some weren't so fortunate.
When Mrs. Olive M. Isbell opened the first school in
California school in 1846 she lacked slate, blackboard
and paper, and so wrote the alphabet on the back of her
The expense of materials and the individual attention
required by such presentation methods, caused small
class enrollment and slowed instruction.
When were chalkboards
first used for instruction?
James Pillans, Headmaster of the Old High School of
Edinburgh, Scotland, is widely credited for inventing
the blackboard and colored chalk which he used to teach
Mr. George Baron, an instructor at West Point Military
Academy, is considered to be the first American
instructor to incorporate the use of a large black chalk
board into the presentation of his math lessons in 1801.
However, it's probable that a few other schools had
access to it, also.
Thanks to such "out of the box" thinking on the part of
a few instructors, the benefits of chalk and blackboards
became clearly apparent.
Schoolhouses across America that could afford the slate
material adopted the medium because it saved teachers
re-writing and allowed them to educate larger numbers of
students easily. Large-size slabs of slate boards were
ordered and shipped across America via the
ever-expanding railroad systems.
schoolhouses in far rural areas of the country began
enjoying the use of this innovative teaching tool. By
the mid-1800s, a blackboard was to be found in almost
every school and had become the single most important
educational tool. Chalk boards remained the primary
all-around educational fixture in schoolrooms and
businesses for almost 200 years. Even the
invented for presentations until 1891.
Blackboards soon became equally important in business
organizations, as well as in the fields of math and
science, long before the materials were even invented
from which whiteboards could be manufactured. Thanks to
the chalk board, not only were large amounts of people
in the same room able to be presented with the same
material all at once, but these boards also became a
method of working out long strings of problems and
"brain storming" new concepts among several people at
Some people, like the famous
fellow at right, were known to do some of their best
work on black boards!
It was not until the 1960s
that the slate blackboard began to give way to boards
manufactured with steel boards coated with porcelain
enamel. At that point, green colored boards began
gaining popularity as they also allowed rooms to have a
less stark appearance compared to the typical black
color, and the erased chalk powder was less obvious on
this green colored board. The use of the term
"chalkboard" gained increasing general popularity once
black was no longer the only standard color.
Presentation media continues
to evolve. Whiteboards (a.k.a. marker boards, or
dry erase boards) did not begin to appear in business
organizations until the mid-1980s, and 21% of all U.S.
schools had converted from blackboards to whiteboards by
the late 1990s.
No longer made from the
original slate as they were in the early 1800s,
chalkboards are built stronger, more resilient, and many
are also built to act as effective "projection screens."
These boards continue to be just as capable
"teacher and business aids" as they've always been!
Chalk boards are available
in a variety of sizes and styles, can be mobile, mounted
to walls, or hand-held.
Many educators assert that
the grit texture of the chalkboard surface adds just
enough resistance help children when write on the
boards. The effect of the slickness of whiteboards
for young writers, on the other hand, has caused some
Chalk (and dust-free chalk)
is now available in a variety of colors, so you're able
to make your presentations bold and bright.
The invention of "dust-free"
chalk plus test results proving that even standard board
chalk is free of toxic substances (scroll down for more
information) eliminates major concerns about using
Chalk generally lasts
longer, doesn't dry out, and is less expensive to
restock (easier on your budget) than whiteboard markers,
particularly for high velocity users.
Chalk can be washed out of
clothes and off skin much easier than dry-erase markers.
Chalk writing boards are
easy to clean with just a damp sponge, so chemical
cleansers aren't necessary.
Many teachers believe the "resistance" offered by a
blackboard aids young new writers far better than the
easy slip boards. Chalk also lasts longer than dry erase
pens which dry out very quickly if left uncapped.
There have been three
primary concerns about the continued use of chalkboards:
First, concerns that
chalk might contain asbestos or "transitional
fibers" were laid to rest in October 2002. A report
issued by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety
Commission found no such harmful materials in chalk
after extensive test sampling from the five major
manufacturers (Crayola, Prang, Pentech, Curiousity
Kits, and Sketch & Scribble). Neither is chalk
manufactured with talc, which has the potential to
"bind" with asbestos and other transitional fibers.
CPSC noted they would continue to monitor the
materials to ensure safety, and no issue has yet
Allergies are a second
concern. This may certainly be a problem for
some percentage of people who have an allergy to
such things as dust particles, though non-dust
chalks have been developed that may solve that
problem for many.
With the increasing
presence of computers in classrooms, the potential
impact of chalk dust has been a stated concern. Dust
can damage computers, and chalk is, essentially,
compressed dust. Yet this appears to be less of an
issue with many than it sounds. As Nancy
Myers, an Indiana school planner whose firm works
with educational institutions, noted in a CNN "News
for Students" interview (June 2, 2002), "The truth
is, unless the computers are sitting right on top of
the chalkboards, there isn't going to be an issue."
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