Mines Math Profs Prefer Chalk over Markers

Profs at the School of Mines are worried that renovation of McLaury Hall means they’ll lose their chalkboards:

Hidden Figures, from Twentieth Century Fox
Chalk did get us to the Moon…

“Everybody’s really concerned that they’re going to come through and renovate this building and we’re going to get whiteboards,” said Paul Hinker, assistant professor of Mathematics and Computer Science. “None of us are big fans of the whiteboards.

…Added [Mathematics and Computer Science Associate Professor Larry] Pyeatt:

“Many of the people in this department will give up their chalkboard when they are pried from their cold, dead hands” [Stewart Huntington, “Chalk One Up for Irony: High Tech Professors Fight for Blackboards,” KOTA TV, 2017.02.14].

I’m a big marker fan. When I was little, Mom worried chalk dust would aggravate my allergies and asthma, thus sometimes denying me the opportunity to scribble arithmetic on the board. My health is stronger now, but as a teacher, I still prefer the dust-free pleasure of marker on whiteboard. No dust on my hands and black pants, no surprise squeaks on the slate, no chalk sticks breaking in my fingers, easier incorporation of color on the board—I just prefer markers.

But I can see the case for chalk. Ecologically, chalk is a simpler product, with fewer components. Responsible teachers can use almost every centimeter of chalk for its intended purpose; we use a little bit of ink and solvent from a marker, then through the bulk of the mechanism away. Chalk can lie on the board tray or wait in the closet indefinitely and still be usable; markers dry out, even in storage, thus wasting even more material, not to mention the time the teacher spends at the board testing and trashing duds before finding that one marker that still has juice.

School Outfitters offers a 16’x4′ chalkboard for $586.88 and a comparable markerboard for $525.88. A twelve-pack of chalk is 79¢. A dozen markers are $18.99. Looking just at board and writing materials, markerboards remain the cheaper option up front but cost more once you order more than three dozen markers. If we figure just one dozen writing utensils per board per year, the 20-year cost of chalkboard and chalk is $603, while the 20-year cost of markerboard and markers is $906, 50% higher.

Mines profs, you’re big math guys, so you know numbers are king. Perhaps those cost numbers are all yo need to show administration to get them to stick with chalk.

And if that doesn’t seal the deal, remind them that you are the Hardrockers, and chalk is rock, right from the mines that are your school’s middle name.

11 Responses to Mines Math Profs Prefer Chalk over Markers

  1. I like chalk too, personally, but I also realize that chalk dust is terrible for electronics which are pretty much standard in classrooms now. So if we’re considering numbers, you have to also consider the wear and tear on electronics like computers, DVD players, and projectors that are wearing down more quickly and overheating more often due to accumulated chalk dust.

  2. These smartboards and stuff that our kids have today are nice, but there’s just something about a chalkboard…

  3. Downdraft exhaust system built into the chalk holders. Dust problem solved…..next……

  4. Vented chalk ledges! Brilliant!

    But then someone has to remember to change that filter….

  5. Pfhhh….. blow it outside. It’s a calcium carbonate. The soil will be lucky to have it. Make kids smarter, faster and improve the environment all at once. Win-win

  6. Porter Lansing

    LED digital blackboards. A great, green product for South Dakota manufacturing innovators.

  7. I enjoy the current digital boards, but they cost a lot and are not big enough. I want entire walls to write on!

  8. Darin Larson

    Cory, you stop at the walls? Why not write on the floors as well? Here’s an article with a picture of the teacher standing on a chalkboard floor:


    Here’s a photo of Cory at work:


  9. Porter Lansing

    DAKTRONICS makes really big digital scoreboards and their prices must be the best because their stuff is everywhere. A digital blackboard would be able to reproduce the teacher’s writing on the board (with pauses for explanation) for each class of the day and store the information in a hard drive as well as transfer it to a student’s device while doing homework … along with the verbal teaching of the teacher. *The digital blackboard could stretch around the whole room. Surround ’em with knowledge and then draw in the room right into their amazed brains. #UnlimitedPotential

  10. barry freed

    It’s interesting how our irrational fears can lead us to more dangerous things, as in banning effective means of self defense. Whiteboard markers have xylene and toluene, two intoxicating, addicting, and carcinogenic compounds. Manufacturers now make markers with less solvent and put fragrance in them to cover the chemical smell, but the xylene is still there. Kids will hold the fragrant markers to their little faces and smell, and smell, and smell. Though nearly imperceptible to the nose, the solvents are still there. So the end result is the kids, smelling the inviting raspberry or apple, take in much more intoxicant, right up their noses, damaging their brains and exacerbating health problems like allergies.
    Later in life, this brain damage can interfere with thought, and inhibit certain social interactions with healthy people.

  11. Dang—can anyone find rigorous medical data comparing the harms of inhaling xylene fumes with the harms of inhaling particulate calcium carbonate? Brain damage vs. respiratory illness?