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Time is a Tricky Concept

As a teacher Time is possibly the most difficult mathematical concept for students to grasp. There are so many factors that must be mastered before the concept can be completely understood.  At its most basic – students have to make the mental shift from base 10 ie 10, 20, 30…100 to base 6.

For Time everything revolves around the concept of 360 degrees in a circle, cut into 12 equal portions of 60 degrees. The minute hand takes 60 minutes to pass once around the face of the clock and there are 5 minutes between each number on the clock face.  Ok what – where did the 5 come in – that’s not base 6. So begins just one difficulty in teaching Time.

For older students calculating in time everything needs to be brought back to 60 ie. If a bus left at 34 minutes past 4 and arrived at 5:12 how long did it take?  It is easy to know that you need to add the 12 minutes but the natural temptation for students is to look at the 34 and subtract it from 100 making 66. Obviously, this is wrong but the temptation is still there as students are so used to working in base 10.  It is all they have ever known – they have 10 fingers, 10 toes, all money is base 10 and so on.This is further compounded by the fact that many clocks use Roman Numerals and this needs to be explicitly taught.  That the clock is divided into 4 sections for quarter hours – why not 6 sections or 10 sections of 6 minutes each? We would still have half past at 30 minutes but now quarter past would be 1/3 past at 18 minutes past and 1/3 to would be at 48 minutes past?  

So what if we could make time a bit more enjoyable and physical?  I have listed below a number of time activities to achieve just this. Please enjoy these activities with your students and do let me know how you go. These are not complete Maths ‘N’ Movement activities but I hope they will provide a inspirational foundation for you can build activities of your own.

  1. Use Roman numeral cards when playing Card Swap – Time and Whole Number plus FMS.
  2. Use a clock with the hour hand pointing at a number to show students how many should be in each group – Time and Whole Number and FMS.
  3. Use a clock with the hour hand pointing at a number to show students how many jumps, hops or skips they need to perform – Time and FMS
  4. Show students 2 clocks with Roman Numerals and ask them to collect blocks to show the total of the numbers shown on both clocks – Time, Addition and FMS.
  5. Place 4 markers to show the locations of 12/0, 3, 6 and 9 with you at the 12/0 marker.  Call out algorithms and students must move using the required FMS to the marker showing the answer. Ie. If you called 10 minus 4 and skipping, students would skip to the 6.  For 2 plus 1 and side gallop, students would side gallop to the 3.
  6. The same activity can be done using hour, quarter past, half past and quarter to. 
  7. Place 12 markers around a circle and have students in groups of 4 move to the minutes in the time called.  Only 5 minute times can be used ie. 5, 10, 15,20mins etc.
  8. Have students sit in a circle with as many students at each point as required and then when a time is called the students at both the hour and the minutes called must race around the outside of the circle and get back to their spot. Only 5 minute times can be used ie. 5, 10, 15, 20mins etc.



 These are just some very basic ideas – please let me know what you come up with for your class – photos without students easily identifiable are always appreciated too.

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