How the Math Department Truly Feels About Chalk

Issue 2, Volume 113

By Juni Park 

Cover Image

Students may be familiar with the standard math classes at Stuyvesant: memorizing formulas and abstract theorems, reviewing practice problems from pages of classwork and homework, studying graphs and diagrams of all sorts of shapes and lines. The heart of every math class lies in the white-fogged blackboard, lined with rows of Hagoromo chalk. But how do Stuyvesant math teachers truly feel about using chalk on a daily basis?

For some math teachers, using chalk is simply a necessity due to the numerous chalkboards in their classrooms. Math teacher Patrick Honner revealed in an e-mail interview that he has no particular attachment to chalk when it comes to teaching. “The only reason I use chalk is because my classroom is full of chalkboards,” he said. “I don't have much of a choice. I would much prefer white boards.”

In fact, Honner finds the limited space on chalkboards inconvenient. “When working through complex problems and concepts, it’s helpful to keep lots of different ideas around, and having multiple boards to work on is essential for that,” he said.

Chalk has also been known to disappear from the math department’s classrooms. “There are some mysteries around missing chalk in the fourth floor,” math teacher Andrew Wille said. “Sometimes if chalk pieces are left on the chalk tray, the next day they will not be there. I don’t know why, if there are students using it, if the janitor is cleaning, or if it’s other teachers.” Whatever the reason is, this phenomenon has led Wille to store his own chalk separately. “I keep my longer pieces of chalk with me, and short pieces I leave on the tray and whatever happens to them happens to them.”

Wille prefers using other mediums along with chalk during lessons. “I personally like to use as much of the surface area in the classroom as possible,” Wille said. “I would use a smartboard, I use problems given out on paper, and because there are so many chalkboards, I use chalk as well.” A favorite among Wille’s math tools is Desmos Activity Builder. “It allows students to interact with multiple graphical representations of the problem and allows them to see what other students in the past are saying,” he explained. “It also gives us a summary of student responses; we can not just talk about procedures, but also summarize the lesson.”

Despite all the shortcomings it may have, Wille praises the reliability and the endurance of chalk. “I’ve never had a problem writing with any random chalk that I’ve used,” said Wille. “In fact, [...] my favorite aspect of writing in chalk is that unlike a dry erase marker, every time you pick up a piece of chalk you know that it’s going to work.”

Many students also have positive opinions on the use of chalk. “The more I think about it, I guess it makes sense,” said junior Yarza Aung. “It’s pretty easy for teachers to erase any mistakes and you don’t have to worry about technical difficulties like you would with a smartboard. The only issue I have with it is that handwriting can be harder to read than the text on a computer.”

Despite the excess amounts of chalkboards in math classes, the Stuyvesant math teachers don’t seem to have strong opinions on this platform. “I hope my students don't spend any time at all thinking about chalk. It’s chalk,” said Honner. “I hope they spend their time thinking about math.”