Pencils, Backpacks, and Perspective: What Ever Happened to Chalkboards?

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When I began my official K-12 education at the age of five, I stepped into a classroom equipped with one of the most fundamental pieces of equipment in the classroom in 1999: a chalkboard. One of the most exciting classroom jobs we could be assigned was getting to be that kid that got to take the erasers outside and clap them until you were enveloped by a chalk dust cloud. Scintillating stuff. And despite being convinced that the noise the chalk made on the board could drive little me crazy, I never questioned the importance or efficiency of the chalkboard.

Fast forward a few years and the “old-school” chalkboards were replaced with white boards and multi-colored markers. Now here was exciting progress! White boards made color-coded notes and better drawings possible for teachers, and made for endless fun after school. The only problem I ever noticed was being stuck in the front row of class and getting a bit dizzy after inhaling marker fumes for far too long. And, twelve-year old me thought that the white board was as good as it would ever get, as good as it ever needed to get.

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I entered high school eventually, and simultaneously discovered a whole new world of edtech. My history teachers were using Smart boards, my English teachers put PowerPoints and projectors to use, and my science teachers each had a large plasma screen television hooked up to an Apple computer. Never before had I seen the potential in equipment made for teachers’ demonstrations and note-taking. My classes easily moved from taking notes to watching a video to searching the internet for articles in a format in which all of the students could see everything that went on and the teachers had no need to fumble with equipment. Notes could be emailed straight to us from the board and we had the ability to diagram on presentations while giving them. It was edtech bliss.

I am a huge advocate for increasing the amount and quality of technology in the classroom, but, to be completely honest, I understand when I hear the argument that students got along just fine with chalkboards for many years. Yes, of course they did. I did. If you look back to when teaching came in the form of simply speech and cave paintings, I’m sure they got along just fine as well. Every period has had adequate equipment to provide its children with enough knowledge to survive in the real world. Which is where my argument comes into play. The world is not the same as it was in 1999, or 1989, or any other time. The technology has developed in order to keep up with the state of the world students were to be sent into.

Obviously, expenses and funding and such come into play with any discussion of implementing edtech. But, being undoubtedly optimistic, I can’t help but try and convey the extraordinary capabilities of technology in the context of a child’s education. I have been lucky to go to the schools I have gone to, I was able to watch a PowerPoint on the heart, watch a video of a heart surgery, and dissect a sheep heart all within one period of a physiology class. This was made possible solely because of the technology which was available to us. Another example? With a projector/computer combination, I was able to collaborate on a computer program with five other people on developer’s software with an online manual open in case we needed to reference it. Five giggling girls never would have been able to work simultaneously on such a project with one simple screen – or one chalkboard. Anything is possible, of course. But the ease, efficiency, and sheer amount you can do with the right type of screen is incredible.

So, maybe I miss clapping chalkboard erasers together. The technology we have today though to put to use in the classroom parallels the amount and level of technology which is widely used in society today. And, every school day I can’t help but be thankful my ears don’t have to endure chalk’s strange ability to emit a sound like 10,000 banshees having a competition to see who can be the loudest. All at once.

What do you think? Need we go beyond chalkboards?