A question about the history of the maths classroom (which I hope isn't off topic).

The idea of using a chalky stone to write graffiti diagrams on a dark plastered wall (marks that could be washed off and replaced) surely MUST have occurred early to ancient teachers of geometry in the academies. So much easier, you'd have thought, than drawing in the sand ....!

OK, so when do we first hear about something like blackboards??

  • $\begingroup$ Did you google “history of blackboards”? $\endgroup$
    – KCd
    Mar 6, 2021 at 10:58
  • $\begingroup$ Well yes; and blogs.ubc.ca/etec540sept12/2012/10/28/… suggests mid nineteenth century for modern-style blackboard. Which is astonishingly late. But my underlying question is, I suppose, did the ancient teachers of geometry really just rely on e.g. diagrams drawn in sand (not that easy to write clearly) or wax tablets (not easy for a group to see?) Do we ever hear of writing on walls or like? $\endgroup$ Mar 6, 2021 at 11:16
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, it is a surprisingly late invention. See, for example en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conic_Sections_Rebellion#1830_incident, 1830 incident. $\endgroup$ Mar 6, 2021 at 12:41
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    $\begingroup$ A very detailed account can be found here. $\endgroup$ Mar 6, 2021 at 18:21
  • $\begingroup$ On my opinion this was one of the greatest inventions which helped mathematics, comparable with the invention of TeX :-) $\endgroup$ Mar 6, 2021 at 20:48

1 Answer 1


If we ignore the "wall" part
enter image description here
"Pastel of Boy with Slate" 1822
Schoolboys would use these, since paper was too expensive to waste on practice or scratch work.

The exact origins of the writing slate remain unclear. References to its use can be found in the fourteenth century

for the wall version

the first mounted classroom chalkboard was pioneered in Scotland in the early 1800s,
... Teachers would usually have to individually transcribe the problems onto each individual slate, which took up a lot of time. All of this changed when teachers began mounting bigger boards onto classroom walls.

This leap forward is widely believed to have first happened in a geography classroom in Edinburgh, Scotland; that teacher, James Pillans, is said to have taken a rough piece of raw slate and mounted it himself up on the wall behind his desk.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The Portrait of Luca Pacioli (XVc.) described in wikipedia: "The painting portrays the friar and mathematician with a table filled with geometrical tools: slate, chalk, ..." $\endgroup$
    – sand1
    Oct 10, 2021 at 19:10

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