When we think of school, chalk is one of the first images that come to mind, even though blackboards aren’t used as much these days. And it’s no wonder: The white, powdery sticks, made from gypsum or calcium sulfate, have been used in classrooms across the country since the 1800s, when class sizes grew and teachers found it easier to teach using big slate blackboards at the front of the room rather than having students writing on individual tablets at their desks. By the 1930s, enameled steel greenboards started to replace blackboards, offering less glare and more stability than fragile slate. Eventually, dry erase boards and smartboards took over. Still, despite technological changes, there are those who continue to find chalk the quintessential classroom tool. At the practical level, it’s much cheaper than whiteboard markers, plus most classrooms already have chalkboards, so why replace them? Chalk is also preferred by some educators because they believe writing with chalk slows down the pace, allowing students to better follow the lesson and more easily take notes. And, if for no other reason, as one teacher said in an online blog in praise of chalk, using a chalkboard means the lights in a classroom have to be on. “It is seldom that students fall asleep when the lights are up,” he wrote, “but in a traditional lecture format, when the lights dim, the eyelids drop.”
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