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What's the time?

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Last updated by Joy Kitt

Making the best use of time is important to us all and that has been the case throughout history. Having a machine to keep track of time is a relatively recent innovation.  Part of learning within the Nature of Science asks that students to "Think in Scientific Ways" and be able to offer explanations, and use evidence to support an opinion.  Comparing the Maui story and Cassini's experiment to observe what the sun was doing both show how people were able to notice that the length of days changed throughout the year. You could go on to explore how (and why) the maori use the lunar cycle to organise their planting and fishing schedule.

According to Te Ara - The encyclopedia of NZ "Before Europeans arrived, Māori (like other traditional societies) told the time by the rising and setting of the sun, the seasons, and the phases of the moon."  The Maori have the story of Maui which is a sort of "What if" story (what if you could really control the sun and moon to suit us, or what about controlling the clouds or wind!)  In the story we all know, Maui and his family are frustrated by the speed the sun rushes across the sky leaving the people little time to get all their work done.  He works with his brothers to weave a net, then they lie in wait for the sun where it sleeps at night and catch it in the net so they can beat it until it can only crawl slowly across the sky. 

In Europe they also learned to harness the sun to help organise their day - they invented sundials. There are many different versions but they all use a shadow or beam of light cast across a graphic representation of the hours or seasons. Where the shadow falls indicates the time. In Lynton in England the Town Hall even has a sundial instead of a clock on it's tower! IMG_1159.JPG

In 1655 the Italian astronomer Cassini created the world's longest sundial in a cathedral using a beam of sunlight shining through a hole in the ceiling to indicate the time.  He was trying to settle an argument between scientists about whether the sun moved around the earth or the Earth moved around the sun!  And he did!

Your students could use these stories to explore the concepts of the seasonal changes including the way the days lengthen and shorten. We are in between seasons now and daylight saving will begin again shortly.  Have them think about how they tell the time when they are outside, away camping, in the evening, can they estimate a minute, an hour? What do they notice about the amount of time they have to go to soccer practice or go for a walk after school in the winter compared with in the summer? Can they make observations about the way the weather and season is changing?  How could they record them? 

Can they make a record of their shadows one day every hour while the same child stands on the same spot while someone draws round their shadow every hour?  What observations can they make of the results?  Would the picture of shadows look the same in a week's time, next month? Next term? What does that tell us?  Can they build a sundial?  In your investigations your class may also fnd out how the Maori used the moon to organise their planting and fishing schedules....do any other cultures use this cycle?  

Time to get busy!