Old-fashioned. Outmoded. Traditional. You would be hard pressed to find a real chalkboard in some schools. No more white stripes on the back of the teacher's trousers or dress. Chalk, blackboards and erasers are out. Well, maybe not.
PowerPoint presentations have been standard in many classrooms for a decade. They are often duplicated in handouts or made available on the teacher's website. But many students' heads are hitting their desks as they drop off into sleep. More and more college students ask their advisors to enroll them in non-PowerPoint classes if available. And some colleges have yanked the electronics to go back to face-to-face explanation and discussion.
The reasons are simple. Look at the above chalk board presentation by the legendary late Dr. Leland Keller of Pittsburg State University. Keller was a master lecturer. Medical Center faculty could spot a "Keller student" in a few weeks because of the student's command of detail and measurements. We see in this chalkboard the summation of a class hour where students built an understanding of spinal cord anatomy and the reflex arc. It is all there. But you know it started with a simple line at the beginning and built in complexity, mind-to-mind with the student. If you examined each student’s notebook, you would find this same complex drawing as they followed him from that simple beginning. Well beyond what they would have done on their own, they have filled their pages with this complex drawing and when they look back at it later, they recall the construction.
We teachers sometimes joke that the learning goes on between the hand and the shoulder when such notes are taken. But of course it is the process of systematically drawing out this complexity that impresses it upon the brain.
Now compare that with an equivalent PowerPoint, either projected in full complete complexity on-screen, or snapped together by mouse clicks in textbook-perfect pieces. Students drop their pencils. Their notebooks remain blank. The teacher didn’t draw it, and they aren’t going to either.
With chalk, the attentive student is following the teacher's mind. A math teacher discovers that a class of students has not understood the math problems assigned the day before. The teacher turns to the board, and carefully works through the steps of the math problem in chalk. The student puts his or her mind in the perspective of the teacher and follows the logic of the solution as it is silently written out. This can be exactly the same example given in the textbook, but now the student follows and understands what was not evident from the cold page.
Chalk is good because it takes time to write it out. It gives time the students need to think and transcribe into their notebooks. Zipping in a new line on PowerPoint, or uncovering another line on an overhead is not the same. With chalk, you are thinking through the ideas, word by word and line-by-line with your students. And if a new class enters to cover the same topic, you erase it all and begin thinking through it again with the next class.
Of course I use videos and PowerPoint when necessary. And I teach my student teachers the appropriate use, expensive as it is. But when a class is involved enough to ask questions and carry the subject beyond the predictable, that is when you grab the chalk and journey together.
No batteries. No energy costs. No updates for compatibility.
"Chalk 1.0" remains one of the most effective means of helping the student understand what is in the mind of the teacher, and has been for over two centuries.