Friday, April 27, 2018

I don't have a clock

The high level math group in the 2nd grade had to answer word problems.  Each problem was written on a separate 5x7 inch laminated card. They sat around a table and tried to answer the 24 questions.  All the questions that day concerned amounts of time or specific moments in time, like

"Johnny began team practice at 3 PM.  The practice lasts 2½ hours. What time will practice be over?"

Calculating amounts of time, and when specific moments will be, is difficult for the children since they have been working hard to understand our number system.  It is based on 10 but our time system, inherited from the Babylonians, is not.

60 seconds in a minute and 60 minutes in an hour but 24 hours in a day!  Let's not get into weeks, months and their irregularities and years are even worse, leaping about and all.  Someone arranged for the group to have some plastic clocks with typical clock faces and moveable hands. I think the idea was that maybe working with a model might might the work easier and more intuitive.  

These students are not experienced time clerks.  When a teacher wrote 17:03 for a time, they objected that a mistake had been made.  There was no 17th hour as anyone can plainly see by looking at the wall clock's symbols.

There were 10 members of the work group and four bright yellow clocks.  It was immediately apparent to the children that some members had clocks to work with and some had no clocks.  We all tend to be born to watch out for injustice and unfair handicaps, especially if we ourselves are getting the bad deal.  Some of the more energetic students were quite focused on their lack of clocks.

I tried to show the clockless students that they were overly focused on the clocks, that the clocks were of dubious value and that they could do calculations in their head.  I was basically unsuccessful. How can I compete with blatant injustice, poor supplies of essential equipment and the mysteries of time measure and calculation? Very bright kids stopped thinking and repeatedly stated that they didn't have a clock.  They had not been given a clock. Other kids had clocks to work with! They didn't have a clock. Once in a while, an upset child would relax enough to stop focusing on what he didn't have that others did have, and an answer, a good answer, would come to him.  He would exclaim that such-and-such was the answer and he would be correct. But the fact that he did well without a clock didn't register, he would see others with their clocks and return to full time lamenting what he didn't have. Very good demonstration of locking minds.

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