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The History of the Classroom Blackboard
Many will argued that the most revolutionary and transformational educational tool ever invented is the common blackboard. It’s hard to fathom but blackboards as we know them today were an unknown teaching tool until relatively recent times. The invention of the blackboard had an enormous impact on classroom efficiency. Even in this age of computers and high-tech teaching aids, the humble blackboard, or its evolutionary incarnation, the whiteboard, still remains a mainstay in classrooms and boardrooms around the world, and this fact is not likely to change anytime soon. Due to its simplicity, effectiveness, economy and ease of use, technology will have to go a long way to make the blackboard obsolete.
Blackboard classroom history begins in a rudimentary way in very ancient times. Students in ancient Babylonia and Sumeria are known to have inscribed their lessons on clay tablets with a stylus (predecessor to the pen and pencil) in cuneiform writing. These could be used wet and then erased to be used again or baked to create a permanent document. In India in the 11th century, documents show that school teachers were using something similar to personal blackboards for lessons and studies.
A Modern Revolution
At the end of the 18th century, students in both Europe and America were still using individual slates for their classroom studies. These were either made of actual slate or pieces of wood coated with paint and grit and framed with wood. Paper and ink were expensive but slate and wood was plentiful and free, making them the economical option for school children. Unfortunately, these were also highly inefficient methods. Schools teachers had no way to present a lesson or a problem to the class as a whole; instead they had to go to each individual student and write a problem or assignment on each one’s slate.
In 1801 the rather obvious solution to the problem made its debut. James Pillans, headmaster and geography teacher at the Old High School in Edinburgh, Scotland, is given credit for inventing the first modern blackboard when he hung a large piece of slate on the classroom wall. He also gets the credit for inventing colored chalk. In America, the first use of a wall mounted blackboard occurred at West Point in the classroom of instructor George Baron. Use of this new innovation was rapidly adopted by other schools. Facilitated by the fast-growing railroad system, by the middle of the 19th century almost every classroom in America had a blackboard, mostly using slate shipped from quarries in Vermont, Maine, Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland and Virginia. Businesses also started using them in their boardrooms. The blackboard was the greatest innovation in teaching methods of the period.
20th Century Changes
Blackboard classroom history remained essentially the same until the 1960’s with schools teachers using slate blackboards like their predecessors. Then the “greenboard” was introduced, which was a steel plate coated with a porcelain-based enamel. This was considered to be an improvement because chalk powder didn’t show as well when erased and the green color was considered to be more pleasing and easier on the eyes than black. It was also lighter and more durable than fragile slate, making it more economical and easier to ship. The term “chalkboard” began to be used more often when the color of the board was no longer black. In the 1980’s the whiteboard, or dry erase board, began to become common and by the mid 1990’s 21% of American schools were using them. Although chalkboards are still common in schools, especially in older schools, newer schools today tend to use the dry erase board for its ease of use and because it eliminates chalk dust contamination in the classroom, as well as the need for students to clean erasers, a common chore in earlier days. Some critics, however, argue that the slickness of the whiteboard makes it harder for young students to use it when writing and that the slight resistance of the traditional blackboard is easier. The invention of dust-free chalk also makes blackboards more attractive to some.
Whatever its incarnation, it’s clear that the blackboard, because of its low tech efficiency, will remain a staple of the classroom and the boardroom for the foreseeable future.< show all "Reference Material" articles