Whatever happened to …

… blackboards?

Kudos for this post go out to Alfred Thompson who sent this article my way.  “Flashback to 2000: Classroom Tech That Doesn’t Exist Anymore“.  Who knows? – there may be enough in there for a month’s worth of posts.  But, the one that caught my attention was the paragraph dealing with chalkboards.  Or, as we called them blackboards.

Chalkboards – Some educators still like the feel of chalkboards and plenty still use whiteboards, but SMARTboards have emerged as the state-of-the-art improvement. Chalkboards, with their squeaky noises and messy erasers were, the norm for decades. Now, with SMARTboards, students can see the day’s notes online, watch videos of demonstrations, and take more accurate notes.

Could there be more of a staple in education?  Think classroom, and you’ll be visualizing this somewhere along the line.


I was so impressed when I walked into my first classroom – Room B41.  There were blackboards across the front and across the side of the room.  At least, the way that I had things arranged  – my tables were wide and shallow instead of narrow and deep in the rectangular room.  The boards were actually composed of different materials.  The ones that I used on the front were the traditional hard surfaced ones made from who knows? How chalkboard is made.  The one on the side wall was actually made of something else – obviously synthetic and gritty and adhered to the wall behind.  It was actually easier to write on but part of the glue had become unstuck and there was a big wow extending from the surface.  I had asked for it to be fixed but was told that it would cost too much.  So, it was my first attempts at virtual reality with its 3D surface.

I remember a gift from my parents upon getting my first teaching job.  It was something that I’d always admired from great teachers – a chalk chuck.  You slide your piece of chalk into this thing and it reduced the amount of chalk that got on your fingers.  Until you need coloured chalk, that is.  It solved one of the great challenges of using chalk.  The other, I never mastered – as a new teacher, I wore a sports jacket every day and had the annoying habit of leaning back on the blackboard.  Dry cleaning should be a part of teacher compensation.

Blackboards were great for drawing logic diagrams – flowcharts, structure diagrams, data flow, etc.  They weren’t so good for real artwork if you’re challenged that way like I am and certainly were difficult to compose a large routine or program on the board in a readable way.  There really is a technique to writing horizontally while talking and keeping your eyes open on the activity behind you.

For me, when I got my first overhead projector, things really changed.  I could have parts of a program or routine already filled in (usually the simple or setup stuff) and with markers was able to complete the rest of the program while the class watched me.  I never had to turn my back on the class anymore which helped so much.  Sure, it was easier on class management but the big thing was to catch the confused expressions and hands up for questions the moment they occurred.

Soon, the blackboard just became a place for me to put up class reminders which I would do before school began.  I experimented with a VGA to TV converter to show information on a television set.  It worked but you had to make sure that the text was large enough so those in the back could see it.  Moving to the front in Mr. Peterson’s class was encouraged so that you could see things.  A big advantage was being able to roll it into the computer room and to teach from there.  There were lots of cables though!

The best solution ever was the data projector.  At that point, you could connect a computer and develop and demonstrate in real time.  Marrying that with a SMARTBoard (our interactive whiteboard option) extended the concept.  The description from the article that I’ve included above was only part of the solution.  That reinforces the teacher at the front model.  Where it really excels is using the interactive features and having students demonstrating their efforts with touch and multi-media components.  The don’t even have to connect their computer; with the management system that we had, you could have a student snag her/his desktop from the teacher machine to demonstrate.

From a teacher and presenter perspective, you can’t beat the software that comes with the SMARTBoard and, for a change, Hyperstudio is a great authoring tool.

As we rolled these out to the system, a common message from me was that these were not to be used as a 21st century replacement for the drive in theatre just for showing movies.  Teachers got it; students look at you like you have two heads.  I had the opportunity to work with an amazing group of primary educators to develop lessons and workshops to demonstrate how much more the technology could do in the hands of a skillful teacher.   An interesting trend now is to remove both the data projector and the SMARTBoard and connect a computer to a casting device and display it on a digital television.  I’ve seen various incarnations of this but they don’t compare with the data projector yet.

There are other incarnations of technology based upon the whole blackboard concept; many schools have opted to use dry erase whiteboards, replacing the traditional.  One idea that I know is popular with some is IdeaPaint.   It makes any wall a workspace.  It’s a neat concept.

Blackboard is an interesting, although perhaps dated concept in the year 2017.  Do a search for blackboard and guess what you’ll find?  https://duckduckgo.com/?q=blackboards&ia=web

Now, it’s your turn.

  • Do you have any great blackboard stories to share?
  • Have you ever owned a chalk chuck?
  • How do you use the traditional blackboard in your classroom today?
  • Have you migrated to some form of interactive whiteboard?
  • Have you or a teacher when you were a student ever had a blackboard accident?  Care to share?
  • Are there so many points of failure moving to newer solutions that make the traditional blackboard still appealing?

Please share your thoughts in the comments below.  Everyone will enjoy hearing them; blackboards are one of the staples that fills everyone’s educational life – either as a teacher or a student.

Check out the entire collection of Sunday morning memories here. And, if you’re so inclined, through a suggestion in the Padlet.

Published by dougpete

The content of this blog is generated by whatever strikes my fancy at any given point. It might be computers, weather, political, or something else in nature. I experiment and comment a lot on things so don't take anything here too seriously; I might change my mind a day later but what you read is my thought and opinion at the time I wrote it! My personal website is at: http://www.dougpeterson.ca Follow me on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dougpete I'm bookmarking things at: http://www.diigo.com/user/dougpete

6 thoughts on “Whatever happened to …

  1. I find it so interesting how you wrote about chalkboards, as we were just talking about them at school recently. They really have gone by the wayside to be replaced with SMART Boards and whiteboards, but I must admit, I miss the chalkboard. If we want students to see what we wrote on the SMART Board, we have to leave it on all day, which is not good for the bulb, and the markers for white boards can be expensive and dry out quickly, but chalk is economical. A chalkboard really does invite literacy: from the draw to it (to write) to the conversations (oral language) around it. We have a chalkboard in our outdoor classroom, and it’s used often by students and educators: to write together. I think we need to reconsider the draw of the chalkboard. There’s something special about it … and while SMART Boards and whiteboards can be great, I still miss a good chalkboard. Curious to hear what others think.


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  2. Thanks for your comment, Aviva. I wonder if there’s a difference between elementary and secondary classrooms in terms of the “permanent” need for messages. There were a couple of other things that I wish now I’d included in the post – the heat of the data projector and the cost to keep it a functional part of the classroom and the filthiness of blackboard erasers over time. I recall going to Zellers to buy my own replacements when I couldn’t handle the school issued ones!


  3. Oh yes … Zellers does take me back! I do remember the filthy erasers too. I often used rags for replacement options as well or banging out the brushes was always fun. Kids love that!

    I think there may be a difference in primary and secondary in the need for keeping messages. Sometimes we just want our students to have access to a chart we made together, and that means keeping on the SMART Board. The other option is chart paper, but that’s not as environmentally friendly as a chalkboard, and all that paper use bothers me, so we’re usually back again at using the SMART Board.

    There are not many things from the past that I really miss or want back, but the chalkboard is definitely one of them!



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