Section 2

Measuring and handling time


Learning Outcomes:

By the end of this section, you will have:
  • used practical activities to enhance your skills in mixed-ability teaching;
  • considered the benefits of cross-curricular teaching in measuring time;
  • developed your skills in managing an active classroom and resourcing it well.

In order for pupils to understand time, they need to develop an awareness of time – past, present and future. This raises the question: How can pupils be helped to both tell the time and understand the passing of time through practical ‘hands on’ learning activities? In this section, we consider a number of ways to do this, working in groups or pairs. As a teacher, you need to think ahead and plan activities. Collecting resources over time, such as card and paper that you can recycle to make models, is a good idea and will help you with the following activities.

Page 1

A good introduction to telling the time is to first discuss the many ways people used to tell the time before the invention of clocks. You could ask your pupils how they think they might be able to tell the time today, without using clocks. Exploring these ideas first and listening to their answers will provide you with evidence of their current understanding. This will help you to judge how much they have learned after undertaking some activities about time.

Case Study 1: Exploring ways we used to tell the time

Mrs Tokunbo is a teacher in a primary school in Nigeria. She planned to teach ‘time telling’ to her pupils. She wanted to begin by helping them all to understand the need for a standard way of telling time. First, she asked them to tell her what they thought about how to tell the time and listed these ideas on the board. She discussed other ways of telling the time long ago, including marked candles, sundials and sandglasses. For each of these methods of time telling, she asked pupils to think of what it would be like to depend upon such a method, and what problems it might cause. (See Resource 1: Ways of measuring time long ago for examples of what Mrs Tokunbo told her pupils.)

Activity 1: Discussing time telling in groups

Begin your lesson by asking your pupils to think of ways people tell the time without a clock and write down all their ideas on the board. You may need to suggest some examples, such as the rising and setting of the sun, the opening and closing of flowers like Etinkanika, or examples in Resource 1, Resource 2: Water clocks and Resource 3: Sundials). Put them into groups of four or five and ask them how they know what time of day it is. Then ask them to discuss how reliable they think each of these methods are. Ask the groups to report back and have a class discussion, writing up relevant comments, of reliable ways to tell the time.

Page 2

Some people can tell what time it is by looking at the sun. But I have never been able to make out the numbers’ (Attributed to a primary pupil).

You may find it helpful to work together with the history teacher to explore how time was measured in different cultures throughout history. This could become activity-based – your pupils will probably enjoy experimenting with some of these ancient methods of time telling, such as making a candle clock or sundial. It will show your pupils that mathematics is – and has always been – important in many areas of life and study. Using other experts in your classroom will help you learn more about a subject and will motivate your pupils. The teacher in Case Study 2 takes this approach.

Case Study 2: Using other experts to help teach time

Mrs Lengasha wanted to teach her pupils about time. She began by telling them stories of how people in her father’s village used to tell the time of day and how they knew when to arrange ceremonies and events. She asked them if they knew how the length of the shadow cast by a pole was used to determine when to do certain activities and the time for observing Muslim prayers. Mrs Lengasha asked the history teacher to help by explaining how time was measured long ago. The history teacher told them about birds that sing at certain periods of the day or night, like cocks that crow in the morning, and of the relationship between the rainy and dry seasons and clearing-sowing-harvesting times. She told them of how some people used the moon to tell the time over a month. By working with the history teacher, Mrs Lengasha showed her pupils that mathematics is not an isolated subject, and she herself learned some new examples and ideas about time that she did not know before. (See Resources 1, 2 and 3 for some examples.)

Activity 2: Measuring time using a sundial or shadow clock.

Before the lesson, collect some sticks and chalk. You could also read Resource 3 to learn more about sundials.
  • Familiarise your pupils with sundials (or shadow clocks as they are sometimes called) and how they work.
  • Ask each group of pupils to make simple sundials using card, a pencil or stick and some plasticine/mud (or put the stick in the ground).
  • Use the plasticine/mud to hold the stick up on the card, and place the sundials outside. Ask pupils to mark the stick’s shadow at certain times of the day – ‘School begins’, ‘Maths class begins’, ‘Break time’, ‘Lunch time’ and so on, throughout the day.
  • At the end of the day, compare the dials. Discuss how the shadow has moved. Can the pupils explain why?
They could use themselves as sundials by standing in the same position at certain points in the day and observing what happens to their shadows. Ask them to share their results and list the changes they notice about their shadows.

Page 3

There are several important facts pupils need to know about time (see Resource 4: Units of time), but one of the most challenging aspects for young children is often being able to ‘read’ a clock face. The use of practical ‘clock hands’ activities should help pupils to be able to read a clock and tell the time. Once you have a clock or clocks, begin with times that are easier, gradually moving on to the more difficult times:
  • on the hour’ (o’clock);
  • quarter past, half-past, quarter to the hour;
  • five minute intervals;
  • one minute intervals.
Case Study 3 and the Key Activity give examples of how you could do this.

Case Study 3: Telling the time

Mrs Ondieki wanted her pupils to be able to practise setting and reading different times from a clock face. She decided the best thing to do was to ask her pupils to make cardboard cut-out clock faces that they could practise with. She asked pupils to help her collect enough cardboard for every four pupils to be able to make quite a large clock face, and two hands for it. When they had enough, she asked her pupils to cut out circular clock faces and hands from their cardboard; and showed them how to number them on the board, making sure they had the 12, 3, 6 and 9 at the key points. Mrs Ondieki had bought some ‘split pins’ to hold the hands on the clock faces. Mrs Ondieki then explained to her pupils how they should use the clocks, starting first with telling the hours (one o’clock etc.). She showed the pupils a particular time on her own cut-out clock and they made their clocks say the same time. They worked in small groups, helping each other. (See Key Resource: Using group work in your classroom.) They used the clocks they had made for several weeks, until Mrs Ondieki was sure that all her pupils could tell the time confidently. Every day, she also brought to the classroom a little alarm clock. She looked at this with her class at different times of the day to see what time it was.

Key Activity: Telling the time

  • Collect the materials and make cardboard cut-out ‘clock faces’ with your pupils.
  • Begin with whole-class teaching to help pupils see how the hours and minutes work.
  • When pupils have some confidence in this, you may ask pairs or small groups to challenge each other: either saying a time, and asking their peers to show it on the clock face, or making a time on a clock face, and asking their peers to say what time is shown.
  • Ask them, in groups, to make a list of the key things they do during the day, including the times they do them. You may have to help younger children. You could do a picture for the time.
  • At the end of the lesson, or in the next lesson, ask them to draw clock faces in their books, and put in a time and then write down the time in words for each clock. (If you can, have one or two small round objects that pupils can draw around to save time.)

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