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Chalkboard drawings frozen in time for 100 years discovered in Oklahoma school (washingtonpost.com)
264 points by Thevet on June 7, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 85 comments

Looking at the multiplication circle, it doesn't appear to have any products written. The numbers on the outside are almost definitely factors (note the lack of 10, and the relatively high frequency of 7 and 8, which are generally the hardest to memorize.) So I don't think it's a way of teaching multiplication directly, but more likely is a way of testing.

My best guess is that the teacher would call a student up to the board, and then (using some sort of semi-random process, like slapping a ruler against the board) use the wheel to generate a problem for the student to solve (5x7, or 8x9). It looks like a more complex/extensible version of this worksheet: https://www.superteacherworksheets.com/multiplication/circle...

I think this is correct. I remember using a version of this as you described, in primary school (it may have been simpler, my memory is quite fuzzy).

I'm 27 years old from West Africa.

This is actually how my 4th grade teacher did it circa 1990. We had to prove we'd memorized our times tables up to 12. So when you said you were ready, she'd draw 1-12 in a 'random' order on the circle, write the number you were ready for in the center, then work her way around the circle, pointing with a yardstick (she'd occasionally jump around to keep you from working ahead). If you got them all right, you could move on to the next number.

Why are 7 and 8 the hardest to memorize?

No discernible pattern and the numbers very quickly get large, I imagine.

2 is always even. 3 only gets to 30 after 3 x 10. 4 has a quick pattern (4>8>2>6>0>..). 5 always ends in a 5 or a 0.

7's pattern is long 7>4>1>8>5>2>9>6>3>0>.. with no sense to it and the numbers get big fast.

8's pattern is short (8>6>4>2>0>..) but the numbers are unwieldy getting into the 40s really quickly.

9's pattern is easy: start with 09. Add one to tens-place and subtract one from ones-place. So it's long, but pretty: 9>8>7>6>5>4>3>2>1>0>..

I skipped 6 because it seems to me that 6 would probably be pretty difficult for the same reason 8 is difficult. Its pattern is short (6>2>8>4>0>..) but there's less sense to it than there is to 8's pattern, and the numbers get large rather quickly.

At least, that's the reasoning I've always figured. I have no idea.

Just one idea: you don't come across things in multiples of 7 that often.

UK: eggs come in 6s. Pizzas get cut into 4s and perhaps 8s for a really huge one, so multiples of those numbers get seen around. Half is sort of easy (all my adult students can usually find half of a figure, especially if I encourage them to think of paying it out in money with £10 notes and £1 coins). 5 fits into the decimal system nicely. Threes are easy to count up.

> Just one idea: you don't come across things in multiples of 7 that often.

Days of the week?

You got me there!

But just thinking around weeks, apart from a fortnight do you actually count the days in multiples of 7 or just think about months or a period of weeks?

I became good at sevens working in a pharmacy store room in a large hospital where we did continue to count in weeks. Boxes of 112 were common. Inside you would find blister packs arranged in rows of seven with the days of the week printed.

Nice example!

> Just one idea: you don't come across things in multiples of 7 that often.

American football scores.

I'm in the UK. I'll read up on those - US children should be better at their times tables than others then!


This is why I never had problems with multiples of 7. 8's on the otherhand can still give me pause...

Some additions:

3's multiples' digits always add up to a multiple of three. So 69 is 6+9 which is 18, a multiple of three.

9's multiples' digits always add up to a multiple of nine. So 108 is 1+0+8 which is 9, a multiple of 9.

6's multiples' digits are always even and add up to a multiple of three.

Seems reasonable to me. I'd say 7 is harder than 8. I think 6 is easy because it's 2 x 3 so you're already kind of familiar with the products.

2 * n is easy. 3 * n is easy, just multiply by 2 and add one n. 4 is easy, just multiply by 2, two times (or multiply by 5 and subtract one n). 5 is easy. Six is easy, just multiply by 5 and add one n. 9 is easy, just multiply by 10 and subtract one n. But 7 and 8 are not 'reachable' with two operations.

Actually, Using those tips and commutativity, the only thing you need to know about 7 and 8 is 7 * 8.

I don't know why, but as a parent of 4 I definitely think it holds true.

Short related story. When I was in first grade in the 80's, all of our chalk boards were being upgraded to white boards. The teacher used it as an opportunity to be a kind of time capsule. We each wrote our names and something personal on the boards. Later they placed the white boards over them. It wouldn't surprise me at all if those boards are still there to this day.

The cursive writing is beautiful, what a wonderful little find. It's always a joy to find some echo of the past tucked away right under your nose.

The writing is "Spencerian Penmanship" and is considered a distinctly American form. Its influence is still recognizable in the Coca Cola and Ford logos. Many homeschoolers still buy reprints of the classic manual for use in their curriculum.



I've been using the script for all of my handwriting for over a decade, even filling out cursive-prohibited official forms without issue. The swift transition from being notorious for "Dr.'s handwriting" to being sought after to fill out wedding and funeral cards was startling.

> I've been using the script for all of my handwriting for over a decade

Maybe a stupid question but, how? I have pretty horrible handwriting, certainly doctor level; how did you manage a swift transition?

Personal experience with handwriting change:

My writing became stylised in my teens, as I'm sure is true with many others. It sloped backwards, and I used a Greek style e and d, purely out of aesthetic reasons.

In my adult life I noticed this made my writing really slow. This became a problem when I sat some exams in adulthood: my hand cramped as I tried to scrawl as fast as possible in the time limit.

I deliberately investigated faster, more comfortable writing styles. Internet consensus, which I note agree with, indicated that joined-up, forward-leaning (italic) cursive was the way to go. The saw-tooth shape that underpins most letters is easy and feels natural -- if you're right handed.

It took me about 6 months of deliberate effort before the transition was fully embedded, and I'm still very pleased that I made the change.

For any discussion about penmanship, I feel obliged to supply a link to the PenmanshipPorn subreddit[1]

1: http://www.reddit.com/r/PenmanshipPorn/top/

Thanks for the wikipedia link.

People interested in how penmanship has changed over the 20th century might be interested in this (weirdly expensive book)


That cursive is exactly what I was taught in school in Australia. I would say it is less ornate than Spencerian, even less ornate that its successor Palmerian. But they're all quite similar to the more modern eye. My teacher at the time, (history and French) could write perfect Copperplate on the chalkboard.

Looks also the same as I was taught in the U.S. -- though I couldn't pull it off nowadays.

My grandfather grew up in the rural Midwest and wrote with a very attractive calligraphic style a bit closer to Spencerian; my dad still does too.

What picture are you referring to? Kids are taught cursive after capital letters in my country (well, it's more of a mix since capital letters are not cursive but print-like).

This one is not beautiful at all, in my opinion: https://img.washingtonpost.com/wp-apps/imrs.php?src=https://...

This one (low res) is very well aligned, but e's and s's aren't too good: https://twitter.com/OKCPS/status/606905034111000576/photo/1

There is definitely a growing sentiment in the USA that cursive writing is an anachronism. My kids (who just finished elementary school) learned it, but its use is not enforced in other schoolwork. They and most of their friends just print when they have to write by hand. Most writing assignments are typed on a computer now.

I was intrigued by the angular block lettering. Not a curve to be noted in the R B D C. (But notice the mix of styles in "My Rules to Keep Clean".) I wonder if that was the influence of the Art Deco movement that was just coming into vogue.

having a collection of old receipts I saved from my grandparents home I was surprised at how even receipts for furniture sales were so well written.

I do know that my niece and nephew had to have my mom's letters to them read to them by my sister as the schools they attended never taught cursive

Penmanship is one failing I keep trying to remedy, I think a lot can be communicated through it besides the words a letter may contain

the lines on those drawings are excellent .i wonder who may be the artist teacher or students?

I feel like there's so much beauty unintentionally lost to the movement of time. It's always remarkable when it pops back up again.

I find it surprising that they didn't clean the old chalkboards before putting new ones over them. In fact, modulo the holes in one of them (which might've been created during the installation of the new ones), these old chalkboards look perfectly usable to me...

It is not uncommon for institutions that receive public funding to replace things that are not broken in order to avoid budget surpluses that could decrease their funding the following year.

Yep, can confirm. I worked in requisitions in a maintenance shop in the military, and September was always a ridiculous time.

"Hey, we have $120,000 to spend. Make it happen." I would then go to the different section chiefs and ask what they needed as spares. Some were reasonable requests, others were ridiculous. If we didn't spend the money, the budget would decrease the next year, and it would be hell getting that money back when a really expensive part died.

The hilarious thing is that the Inspector General's office is responsible for preventing this thing from happening... but if you go talk to their requisitions personnel around September, they're doing the exact same shit as everyone else.

Which is why governments and large companies ought to be using zero-based budgeting.

By the shape of the hole around the old chalkboard, I would say it was a size upgrade.

Of course they are. And they're all going to be replaced by insipid whiteboards.

Nothing is wrong with whiteboards. I;d evem say they're better. No inhaling chalk dust, dusty erasers, looks clearer, more erasible by common materials, the list goes on.

The list goes on? That's a pretty picture but what I notice about whiteboards is they have their own dry erase dust, the markers require maintenance and often are dry, and ghosting eventually makes the whiteboard look gross. A second order complaint is that the markers smell.

The expense for markers alone has GOT to be many multiples of that for chalk. And chalk doesn't dry out if a kid leaves the cap off, and isn't really damaged by heavy pressure during use (it does break if dropped, though -- I remember teachers using chalk holders to help prevent this).

I agree - the only good thing I can say about chalkboards is that they're something like an order of magnitude cheaper.

You can teach maths on a blackboard. Can't teach maths on a whiteboard.

Don't ask me to explain it, but it's true.

Blackboards do seem better for math and whiteboards better for compsci, oddly

That surprised me too. In my schools the chalkboards were erased every night (except for anything marked "save") and the custodians would damp-wipe them every few days for an extra thorough cleaning. I wonder if they deliberately DIDN'T clean them, intentionally creating a sort of impromptu time capsule.

So the chalkboards that were just removed have been used for 100 years?


I just love comments that are quick to attempt to point out someones stupidity but at the same time reveal their own.

The comment you replied to is saying the boards that covered up these "time-capsule" boards have been used for 100 years. :)

"This week, contractors removing old chalkboards at Emerson High School in Oklahoma City made a startling discovery: Underneath them rested another set of chalkboards, untouched since 1917."

So, presumably, the "old chalkboards" being removed by contractors have been there since 1917, or approximately 100 years.

There is an article by the Public Domain Review[1] where they present an old book about sketching on a blackboard.

I've been wondering how often would a regular teacher make such elaborate drawings. Considering this completely arbitrary and small sample, I guess the answer is "often".

[1] http://publicdomainreview.org/collections/blackboard-sketchi...

I have to wonder how this might possibly relate to Native Americans? Especially in light of the pilgrim history boards that were discovered. 1917 was just 10 years after Oklahoma became a state, it was called Indian Territory prior to that [1]. And Indian boarding schools [2], where they tried to wash the "savage" away, were a big thing back then. To this day oklahoma has a very high Native American population and current reservations/nations reflect Indian removal [3] as there are many nations there that did not come from that area.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_Territory

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Indian_boarding_schoo...

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_removal

edit - added 3rd citation

Either that, or the renovation that covered the boards up took place in December (a theory supported by the calendar drawn on one of the boards), and that just happened to be what was on the boards at the time.

Lessons about the pilgrims are stock curriculum in every elementary school in the USA, usually timed to lead up to Thanksgiving.

The multiplication table baffled me but the cursive writing strokes and lines are beautiful. Beautiful, possibly because its close to 100 years. There are teachers who write that way now too.

the penmenship is still considered as a central part of primary education in many asian countries, notably in japan, south/south-east asia, I think in china and korea too.

I'm reading the Arabian Nights, and a recurrent theme within them is the consideration given to not only script penmanship, but in knowing multiple scripts (one of a number of interesting revelations from the stories).

The calendar has Sunday as the first day of the week. Interesting.

Sunday was supposed to be the first day of the week traditionally. It was seen as such in Christian, Muslim and Hebrew culture.

Monday was later adopted internationally (and there is an ISO [1] for which is the first day of the week too) for business reasons, as it's the first office work begins again, banks open, etc in most places.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ISO_8601

Almost every American calendar does to this day.

I'm curious where you're from that Sunday isn't considered the first day of the week? I know Monday is often treated as such since it follows the "week end" but (in my very limited experience) I've never actually seen anything claiming that Monday is actually first.

Monday is first in Britain, which makes for annoying Web ui when the site isn't localised properly (and it's easy to leave it in en_US and not realise the problem).

I once booked a flight on the wrong day because part way through the booking process the first day of the week in the calendar changed.

Nursery rhymes with this order: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monday%27s_Child http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solomon_Grundy

Chinese use 星期一 / "weekday one" for Monday.

> Chinese use 星期一 / "weekday one" for Monday.

Well... it's true that Chinese generally consider Monday the beginning of the week, but that's not evidence. The days of the week are 一 (1)、二 (2)、三 (3)、四 (4)、五 (5)、六 (6) and 天 or 日 (day). Does day come before 1 or after 6 when you count?

edit: the map lower down in the thread ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Week#/media/File:First_Day_of_... ) shows China as beginning its week on Sunday. That does not agree with my experience, or with the Chinese people I've asked this question of.

> Chinese use 星期一 / "weekday one" for Monday.

Sure, Monday through Saturday are numbered 1 to 6, but Sunday is "weekday Sky" or "weekday Heaven", which is considered to come before "weekday one".[1]


Portuguese uses ordinal numbers to name days from Monday to Friday, starting from Sunday: Monday is segunda-feria (second day), Tuesday is terça-feria (third day), all the way to Friday, or sexta-feria (sixth day).

Interestingly, there's no first day: Saturday and Sunday are sábado and domingo, respectively.

A couple points:

- That map is factually incorrect. Sunday is considered the end of the week in China, not the beginning. I note in passing that the image file is attributed to "own work" -- we all make mistakes.

- The 天 of 星期天 doesn't have the sense of "sky" or "heaven". It has the sense (well, originally had the sense) of "day", the unit of time. Compare 天天 "every day"; 今天 "today"; 明天 "tomorrow". We know that this is the original sense because the name descends from the Christian term 礼拜天 "the day of worship". Consider also that 周天 alternates with 周日, and while 日 shares the sense "day" it does not share the sense "sky".

So days_of_week[0] is actually Sunday. Assuming a zero based index.

Thank you for this! I NEVER knew this was something that could/would be different too. But I will have to keep that in mind if I ever store a wday value; or i guess even present a calendar! wow.

I'm from Romania, and Monday is the first day of the week here.

When we hear that in other countries Sunday is considered the first day of the week, sounds almost as weird as being told that they consider "z" to be the first letter of the alphabet.

Also, it is very frustrating when a UI uses Sunday as the first day of the week, and I encounter that quite often.

I'm from Canada, and it's probably because of all the US calendars we tend to get, but I'm used to Sunday being the first day on the calendar while mentally, I consider Monday the first day of the week. So I plan things where "next week" means "after Sunday" but I'm used to seeing weekend days bordering the weekdays on a month-long calendar. I tend to think Sunday = 0 also. It's kind of like metric vs. imperial. Canadians never did fully switch over, e.g. for weight, height or indoor thermostats (for some folks).

"Weird" is in the eye of the beholder. As someone who grew up with Sunday always being considered the first day of the week, I find it weird to see places where day one is Monday.

tl;dr You're weird! No, you're weird!

Is it frustrating, though? I've seen it start on both days many times but it's never been frustrating, despite one being clearly different from what I've learned all my life.

Well, when I try to get something done in a calendar, having to do that remapping of the beginning and end of the weeks mentally... it gets in the way.

Every European calendar I've ever seen starts the week on Monday.

That map has a glaring error -- China counts Monday as the first day of the week, not Sunday.

According to the cousin comment by thaumasiotes, this is not true. It's just that Sunday comes "before" Monday, which is called day 1.


I feel safe in claiming that I speak for thaumasiotes when I say I didn't mean it that way.

> it's true that Chinese generally consider Monday the beginning of the week

My cousin comment responds to the claim that you can tell China begins the week on Monday because its name is "week one", 星期一. That claim is problematic; China does begin the week on Monday, but the name doesn't prove so.

> I feel safe in claiming that I speak for thaumasiotes when I say I didn't mean it that way.


Boom. Great link. End of thread right there.

Google's places API has the days numbered sunday : 0 through to saturday : 6 so I guess the US system has moved in to API land.

In Muslim countries it's predominantly Saturday. Correct me if I am wrong.

I was taught that Monday was the first day of the week in preschool here in the US. Looking back maybe it was some rogue teacher, but it always stuck.

Monday is the first day.

I've always thought of this as the Jewish calendar, where Monday start is the Christian calendar. All based upon the day on which God rested. So if Sunday is the sabbath, then Monday is the start of the week. Whereas if Saturday is the sabbath, then Sunday is the start. (For the purposes of balance, I'm aware other religions exist too)

Saturday is still the day on which God rested in the Christian calendar. The significance of Sunday comes from Jesus' resurrection. It wasn't until the Middle Ages that Sunday came to be treated as a "rest day" and therefore conflated with the idea of a "Sabbath" (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lord%27s_Day ). Even then, Sunday was generally termed the "first day" -- note that "Seventh Day Adventists" hold their religious services on Saturday.

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