Home History of the Classroom

Published on August 24th, 2018 | by Sam Rose

The History of the Classroom

As the new school year starts next week, we thought we would take a look back on how the classroom has evolved over the years.

The Modern Classroom

From chalkboards to whiteboards, the way we teach and learn sure has come a long way. In fact, the last decade has seen technology take over parts of the classroom, with electronic tablet devices and laptops now becoming commonplace. Digital projectors, interactive screens and even virtual reality has changed the way in which children are now learning subjects in school. It’s a huge leap forward from the simplicity of exercise books and calculators. But what were some of the more iconic items from the classroom of yesteryear?

Historic Classroom Items

The Horn Book

The predecessor to the chalkboard, the horn book was originally used in England way back in the 15th century. It would comprise of a sheet containing the letters of the alphabet, vowel and consonant combinations and the Lord’s Prayer mounted onto wood, bone, leather or even stone frame with a handle.  The sheet was protected by a thin sheet of horn or mica.

Classroom Horn Books

The School Slate

Set in a wooden frame, the school slate was used in all Victorian schools.  Prior to this, a pencil also made from slate was used to write onto the surface. Children would bring a sponge or rag to wipe their slate clean during the school day. Slates enabled schools who could not afford individual supplies of pencils and paper a way of teaching their students. However, there were disadvantages, work could not be saved for future reference and both the slate board and pencil could break if dropped.

School Classroom Slate

The Chalkboard

For over 100 years the chalkboard was the main tool teachers used to conduct lessons. It is thought that Edinburgh headmaster, James Pillan came up with the idea of the chalkboard in order to teach geography to his students. In the 1960’s slate chalkboards were replaced by ‘greenboards’, a steel plate coated with a porcelain based enamel which was easier to keep clean.

School Classroom Chalkboard

The Projector

Back in the 1870s, the Magic Lantern projected printed images on glass frames onto darkened classroom walls. The overhead projector was then developed by 3M in the 1960s. It was able to project images and text on a clear film onto a screen or wall. By the 1970s, classrooms across the country were embracing the overhead projector or OHP as it was more affectionately known.

Overhead Classroom Projector

The Slide Rule

Before the invention of pocket calculators, students had to use the slide rule for multiplication, division, logarithms and trigonometry. Its heyday was during the 50s and 60s before pocket calculators became affordable and much easier to use.

Classroom Slide Rule


Back in 1770 natural rubber made from plants was discovered as a way of removing pencil markings. Previous to this wax, Pumice stone and even bread was used. Despite a Call for Erasers To Be Removed From Schools, a trusted eraser is still a must have for any pencil case.

Classroom Eraser

Exercise Books

The school exercise book has been a part of school life for over 150 years. Although the use of tablets and laptops is now common, exercise books still play a pivotal part in our children’s learning. Silvine is a brand we all know and love from our schooldays. Their iconic red exercise book with the laurel wreath logo first appeared on our school desks in the 1960s. The original conversion tables were in ounces and bushels, until the 1970s when metric measurements began to be used.

School Classroom Exercise Books

Back to School Essentials with the Post Office Shop

With the back to school countdown on, it’s time to double check you’ve got the essentials for the new term. Our School Essentials section on the Post Office Shop website has everything you’ll need ready for the new school year including colouring pens, pencils, pencil cases, and other accessories.

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