2. Cross-curricula practical work

‘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 Yashini 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 Yashini 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 raining-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 Yashini 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 Resource 1, Resource 2, and Resource 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.

1. Using group work to discuss ‘time’

3. Using local resources to teach telling the time