The classroom blackboard is one of the most innovative educational tools ever created. It may seem difficult to believe that blackboards, as we know them today, were not invented until fairly recent times.
The blackboard’s invention had a huge impact on the efficiency of classrooms. The simplicity of the blackboard and its white counterpart has significant advantages over other more complex modern technologies. They are unlikely to ever go out of style.
In a rudimentary version, Blackboard’s history began in ancient times. Ancient Sumeria and Babylonia students wrote their lessons on clay tablets using a stylus, which was a predecessor of the pencil and pen. They also used cuneiform writing. They could be wet erased and used again or baked to make a permanent document. Teachers used similar personal blackboards to teach their students in India in the 11th Century.
A modern revolution
Students in Europe and America still used individual slates made from actual slate, or pieces of wood coated in paint and grit and framed by wood at the end of the 18th century. Slate and wood were cheaper than ink and paper, which made them an economical choice. They were also very inefficient. They were unable to give a lesson or solve a problem to the entire class. Instead, they had to go to each student individually and create a problem or assignment.
The solution was found in 1801, and it was quite obvious. James Pillans, the headmaster at the Old High School, Edinburgh, Scotland, was credited with creating the first modern blackboard. He hung a large slate piece on the classroom wall and it is now known as the “first modern blackboard”. The first wall-mounted blackboard was used in America at West Point, where it was installed by George Baron, an instructor.
This new technology was quickly adopted by other schools. America’s rapid-growing railroad system ensured that almost every American classroom had a blackboard by the middle 19th century. Most of these boards were made from slate imported from quarries in Vermont and Maine, Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, Virginia, and New York. They were also used by businesses in their boardrooms.
20th Century changes
The history of Blackboard classrooms remained the same up to the 1960s when schools teachers used slate blackboards just like their predecessors. The “green board”, a steel plate covered with porcelain-based enamel, was then introduced. This was seen as an improvement since chalk powder doesn’t show up as well when erased. The green color was also considered more appealing and more pleasant than black. It was lighter than fragile slate and therefore more cost-effective and easier to ship.
When the board’s color was not black, “chalkboard” became more popular. The whiteboard (or dry erase board) became more popular in the 1980s. By the mid-1990s, 21% of American schools used them.
While chalkboards are still used in schools, particularly older schools, modern schools prefer dry-erase boards. This is because it eliminates chalk dust contamination and makes it easier to use. It also saves time and doesn’t require students to clean erasers as often in past years. However, some critics argue that the whiteboard’s slickness makes it difficult for students to write on it, while the traditional blackboard has a slight resistance. Blackboards are now more appealing to some because of the availability of dust-free chalk.
It doesn’t matter what form it takes, the blackboard will be a constant in the classroom and boardrooms for many years to come.