Front Page Forums Chapter 12 Forum Whiteboards, blackboards, vertical non-permanent surfaces

This topic contains 2 replies, has 2 voices, and was last updated by  tzager 6 months, 4 weeks ago.

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  • #4148 Reply


    This article is delightful and gets at some subtle reasons why mathematicians love chalkboards. Teachers prefer whiteboards. Thoughts?

  • #4668 Reply


    As I read, I could feel my blood starting to boil; I’ll bet you can work out the line that did it for me:

    “If I walk to a room and see something written on a blackboard rather than a whiteboard, I’m more likely to assume it was done by a mathematician.”

    What a load of elitist crap. Oh, this one too.

    “Serious mathematics has always been done on blackboards, so if your proof is written on some other wall-hanging device, it must not be serious mathematics.”

    So Ramanujan’s or Einstein’s notebooks, or the messy pieces of paper covering my desk, or the napkin in a restaurant, or kid using a crayon or talking maths out loud isn’t serious mathematics? (I know I’m bending the article’s definition of ‘serious mathematics’.)

    And, just to finish my snark:

    “You can talk over someone if they’re writing on a smartboard or a whiteboard, that’s a lot harder to do on a blackboard.”

    Or you could learn to respectfully interact with your colleagues …

    <deep breath>

    Later there are some perceptive observations, that give real insight into how mathematicians work. This was delightful.

    Ultimately, I think this article makes some important points that transcend the type of writing surface used; a few of these are below.

    1. Provide as many writing surfaces as possible for people to capture their mathematical thoughts.
    2. Put them in social places, where people can come together (intentionally or coincidentally) to discuss their ideas and collaborate.
    3. Leave mathematics in visible places, so that people can mull over the ideas.
    4. Mathematics is physical. Use your body to help convey mathematical ideas and to bring it to life.
    5. Doing mathematics is messy. What’s more, the ‘inherent messiness … turns out to be a feature, not a bug’.
    6. Mathematics is a human endeavour, and needs our participation and ideas.

    But please don’t think that all mathematicians consider only maths done on a blackboard to be ‘serious mathematics’.


    • #4677 Reply


      Amie, I’m so glad you didn’t take a walk before posting! I freaking love this. Thanks for calling out the crap in the article and finding the good stuff!


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