Teacher to 8 year old: "What is the time?"
"Twenty-five past ten."
"Twenty-five what? What is it twenty five of?"
"Twenty-five anything I suppose."
Daphne Kerslake, Taking Time Out, MT73
This is an account of three lessons on teaching time with a group of children aged 8-11.
Following the article Taking Time Out by Daphne Kerslake (MT 73), and having read some of the research on children's learning of time (e.g. here) I had the dual aims of creating activity that would improve children's ability to read the time, whilst allowing them to get a sense of the duration of different units of time. For this reason I created a number of practical activities, alongside paper-based tasks.
It is important that children can shift between different representations of time (clock face, number-form, and words). We answer the question "What time is it?" in words, and so I felt that conversation was important. It was also clear to me that, with such a wide range of ages in this class, some children were more confident with (telling the) time than others. Most of the tasks, apart from the last one, were done in self-selecting more-less confident pairs.
A feature that I always try to include when designing activity is to allow opportunities for learners to create (examples). This was tempered here with the very 'practical' nature of this topic, that one reasonably clear measure of success is whether children can tell the time. Another feature of task design that was useful here was stressing and ignoring, or varying one thing while keeping others constant, or removing them entirely. For this reason I created a number of tasks that focussed attention on only one of the units of time / hands.
In the second lesson, I wanted the children to get a sense of the relationship between minutes and hours, and to get a sense of how long an hour was. I starting by drawing attention to the different hands of the clock, and what they represent. I removed the hour hand from a clock, and talked about fact that the minute hand only tells us where in the hour we are. I relabelled the hour hands with their word descriptions (e.g. 8 got relabelled as "twenty minutes to"). I then removed the minute hand and talked about how we can estimate the time just by looking at the hour hand.
It was the last lesson before Christmas, so each child set up this experiment to grow a Christmas tree, and then documented how their tree was changing as time passed. The experiment was generally a failure as not much happened, but it was fun trying. When nothing happened, I decided to create a quiz on the spot, which went OK. Questions included: "At 6 o-clock, the hour and minute hands are in a straight line... what other times of day does this happen?"
In the third lesson, the children did a range of written tasks in more-less confident pairs, which required them to complete partial information on clock faces, and give reasons for their answers. This felt like quite a 'traditional' lesson for me, but it was useful for the children. We talked about the ways in which the more confident children could be helpful, and less helpful, to the others. I went round the pairs discussing what they had done, and ensuring that the children had been precise about where and how they drew the hands, which felt pernickety but necessary.
Task 1: Adding the minute hand for a given hour hand, and describing in words.