Monday, April 30, 2018

UK Schools Removing Analog Clocks - Teens Can't Tell Time

If you're of a certain age over 20 or 30, you grew up with analog clocks.  You got fully indoctrinated to "the big hand's on the ..." and "the little hand".

Apparently that's being lost.  A bigger question is whether we should care or not. According to The Telegraph, schools are switching over to digital display clocks to help remove stress during taking tests.  The stress only exists because the students, not just first graders but 9th, 10th and 11th year students in the UK, can't tell time at a glance.
Malcolm Trobe, deputy general secretary at the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said youngsters have become accustomed to using digital devices.

“The current generation aren’t as good at reading the traditional clock face as older generations,” he told The Telegraph.

“They are used to seeing a digital representation of time on their phone, on their computer. Nearly everything they’ve got is digital so youngsters are just exposed to time being given digitally everywhere.”

Mr Trobe, a former headmaster, said that teachers want their students to feel as relaxed as possible during exams. Having a traditional clock in the room could be a cause of unnecessary stress, he added.
It's easy to turn this into a "those pathetic children today" screed, but I don't want to do that.  I think it's reasonable to ask if it's really necessary.  In my mind, it's hard to not immediately see a clock face when I'm thinking of a certain time, and that the clock face helps me visualize the difference between time zones, time intervals, and other things but maybe that's just "a product of my raisin'".  Perhaps if you were born and raised with a digital display on everything, you see those things as easily.  What does someone raised with digital clocks think when they encounter instructions to position two things at the 10 and 2 o'clock positions, or to look for something at 6 o'clock.

(I can't imagine how you could visualize everything on a digital display.  For example, how fast does the sun move across the sky?  Half the speed of the hour hand on a clock; the sun goes from east to west, or 3:00 to 9:00 in about 12 hours (it varies with the season).  The clock obviously takes 6 hours.)

I think there's an honest need to ask whether tons of arithmetic-by-hand is worth doing in an era when calculators are everywhere.  For perspective, I made the observation in my first year in an engineering department that the guys who were on the top on the technical side could do the most math in their heads, so I'm not at all opposed to doing lots of math, it's just that most students won't be in that environment.  Similarly, is there a real need to spend weeks teaching children to read an analog clock if digital displays are replacing analog clocks?  If the only analog clock they see is in school (or Big Ben - this is the UK after all) what's the point?  So they can read an analog clock if they have to?  If digital electronics suddenly went "poof"?  If we really get a TEOTWAKI event, the question will be whether or not one can read a sundial, not an analog clock.

(Image from The Telegraph)

The other item the Telegraph linked in the same article is a bit more troublesome:
Earlier this year, a senior paediatric doctor warned that children are increasingly finding it hard to hold pens and pencils because of an excessive use of technology. Sally Payne, the head paediatric occupational therapist at the Heart of England foundation NHS Trust, said that when children are given a pencil at school, they are increasingly unable to hold it.

To be able to grip a pencil and move it, you need strong control of the fine muscles in your fingers. Children need lots of opportunity to develop those skills," she said.

"It’s easier to give a child an iPad than encouraging them to do muscle-building play such as building blocks, cutting and sticking, or pulling toys and ropes. Because of this, they’re not developing the underlying foundation skills they need to grip and hold a pencil."
Do we need to ensure students can communicate with a pencil, and not just a keyboard, or even just texting with their thumbs?  Yeah, I'm gonna come down on the side that we really need to make sure kids don't lose the ability to write with pencil and pen on paper.  Using written language is being human.  Losing the ability to write has "dark ages" written all over it.


  1. Screw 'em. I'm becoming a belter and leaving them behind!

  2. As a high school physics teacher, I can tell you that the math skills of even the top quintile are poor. My advanced physics class has 22 students. Only 3 or 4 of them actually have math skills.

    1. The alternative to making everyone do lots of arithmetic work sheets or other work is to encourage the ones who want to be good to study it on their own. Of those 3 or 4, one may want to be good enough to do more on their own.

      A friend who retired before me was active with the interscholastic robotics competitions. We were talking one day, and I said the outreach never made much sense to me as I thought the kids who wanted to go into technical areas knew it by high school. She said that she had run across a few kids who somehow had no idea that the engineering world even existed and this got them into STEM.

      I assume kids like the ones you teach may well fall into that group. Maybe tell them that in a group of engineers in very high places in the space industry, the guys on top were the ones who could do a lot of math in their head.

    2. "...the guys on top were the ones who could do a lot of math in their head."

      Since when do schools/teachers encourage doing mental math?

      In the 60's, they forced me to do all math on paper. Their excuse was that they had to be able to tell if I was doing it properly. Bull. My results were always 100% accurate. I would catch teachers making mistakes, which embarrassed them.

      What those idiots did was eliminate any attraction for using math. They did this by changing my scores to how well I documented every mental keystroke on paper. Which was not how my mind worked at math. I didn't mentally make all those individual calculations like you do on paper. Or, at least it wasn't an obvious process, since it seemed to happen too fast for me to follow. By the time I escaped school, I didn't seem to have the ability anymore, since I had no use for it at home, and was forced to ignore it in class.

    3. I keep re-writing this post because I don't want to be critical of teachers. Maybe this will be my last re-write. For the most part, they do their best. When I was in high school (mumbles) years ago, there were 88 students in my graduating class. There was one class for 'higher math' - Trig and Calculus 2. Four students took the class. Two of us received A's. Trig was easier for me than Calculus because I could "see" it. Then I moved onto other things in life like herding cattle during the summer because it was a rural area. I came back to math at the Naval Postgraduate School where I chose it as a major - even though I pulled a trigger for a living.

      And my point is this. I never really found a career that floated my boat in math. The crypto-related things of this world have always been a HOBBY of mine, breaking DES back when DES was cool with computer running SCO Unix (open server release), etc. But I didn't use it for work because I found pulling a trigger to be more interesting and quite frankly, it paid better. Being locked in an office and living under artificial lighting seemed too much like prison. Sort of like living on a ship or a sub when I was in the Navy. I was fine with being supercargo, but avoided long deployments like that.

      So some of us were taught, had an aptitude, and absent something more challenging, didn't do much with it outside of a hobby. I still tinker with the hobby side of it. Usually at night when the phone isn't ringing and when people don't want a piece of my time.

    4. Since when do schools/teachers encourage doing mental math? Exactly! That means the only ones who do well at it care enough to learn it on their own.

      I was always a "do it step by step" guy and never thought much about doing quick appraisals in my head until I got motivated do so, and then it was easy to do.

      There limits, of course. Everybody resorts to other methods for really complex things and the point they're trying to get across is that the method they're teaching will work all the time (if you don't make a silly mistake).

    5. For the most part, they do their best. For sure.

      Regrettably, but understandably, teachers tend not to be very good at what they're teaching because they simply don't have the required level of skills. That's a broad generalization and I'm sure there are some that are good. In general, though, most people who could make two or three times what a teacher makes in industry will go work there.

      The problem with public education lies in the administration side. As education costs have skyrocketed over the years, it has largely gone to administrators and not to teachers or things that would help in teaching.

  3. Never fear. When the UK goes Muslim, they will relabel Big Ben in Arabic, and then EVERYONE will need to be able to read an analog clock so they can know when they need to pray to their god Allah. Khan plans to have that in place by next year.

  4. I just spent a day in my kids' elementary school, helping out in each grade level.

    One of the things I helped with was a spanish 3rd grade class (taught in spanish, 'cuz we're in TX and we've been thoroughly conquered, as ~90% of our public school kids are hispanic, with 67% not proficient in english). The teacher assigned me to help 3 little girls with expressing/telling time in english. See the numbers, write the english words, and indicate the analog hands, and vice versa for all three starting points.

    They all started out making the same mistake, pointing to the '7' for '27' or '17'.

    I explained how the minutes work on the analog face, counting by fives (skip counting as the school puts it, which they already know), and counting the individual minutes. This is actually a confusing topic since the clock face usually isn't numbered with the minutes.

    Once they understood that the tick marks were minutes, and that the 'big' numbers were skip counting markers, they got it. Only took about a half hour and these were the kids that were having trouble.

    If it takes 'weeks' to teach analog time-telling to a kid who already recognized the hours and minutes on a digital display, you've got other learning problems present, or teaching problems.

    The bigger issue is the willingness of modern education to keep lowering the bar. Kids having trouble? Remove the requirement. History, math, science, handwriting, reading, whatever the subject, as soon as the kids can't just magically do it, the tendency is to reduce the requirement.

    This results in the rush to the bottom that we see.


    Oh, and it's quite clear that some of the issue is with the kids. NO ONE will SAY, I can't teach Sally literature or reading for comprehension because she never learned to read. No one will say, I can't teach Jamal to add because he's got an 80 IQ and the attention span of a spider monkey on crack. In some places we've got whole schools full of kids with low IQs, some level of fetal alcohol syndrome or other brain damage from pre-natal exposure to drugs, no empathy or ability to self regulate, and attachment disorders. Google SEL (Social and emotional learning) for the latest progressive attempt to replace parenting with the school system. The need for such a program points out the LACK of those abilities in the current student body. Look at what SEL considers to be the missing 'core competencies... we used to call those things, politeness, decorum, self-control, manners, and just plain 'good behaviour.'

  5. For the most part, [teachers] do their best.

    What teachers do is enforce all the essential features of public school which make it psychological torture, and stunt development. Then, while guarding you in a prison cell, sometimes they'll give you a word of encouragement. There are several movies in pop culture about teachers who bucked the public school system and got unprecedented results. Teachers cannot claim ignorance of this. A way you can discriminate between not caring and ignorance is that when you hand a teacher a book like Gatto's _The Underground History of American Education_, the ignorant are surprised and horrified and make plans to change their behavior. Whereas those that don't care are not surprised, and try to distract you from making your point.

    1. Virtually all public school teachers are leftists/socialists, since that is what the system creates. Woe is the teacher that bucks that trend.
      The pack will gather together and force out the ones that don't match the template. The end result is a teacher that tends toward a lower IQ, and is barely competent. They don't have to think to be able to teach the pablum that the system spews out in their textbooks and programs. Even in the 60's, I could see the divergence from established history books. Reading the library was my hobby. The 2nd Amendment was very noticeable by it's absence in my textbooks, for instance.
      I got the impression that most of the teachers would have been very happy if the various school, and public, libraries had been removed.

  6. As a mechanic, I want to know how new techs will learn 'clockwise' and 'counter-clockwise' (or anti-clockwise, in the place that used to be Great Britain) from digital clocks.

    1. Then wiseguys ask, 'Well, how did they decribe those turns before clocks were invented, Hmm?' (insert smug, self-satisfied 'gotcha' grin) I tell them that we can indeed use those older words: deasil* and widdershins. (*which will get auto-corrected to 'Diesel.')

  7. Heh, your post made me remember back when... remember back about 40-some years ago, when electronic digital clocks and watches were coming out? Red LEDs that only turned on when you pushed the button, because even LEDs sucked down batteries like soda pop?
    I was in middle school when those came out and wanted one so badly. (And I never got one, either, they were pretty pricey if I recall correctly). My dad humphed at them and told me that those digital watches were "for hippies who can't read a clock" :)

    Now that I think of it, I still remember the math books in 2nd and 3rd grade back then (circa 1973) had a section on how to read an analog clock.

    1. Heh - I had a red LED watch because I was a working dude then and got enough overtime to buy one. It didn't last long before LCD watches came out. The first ones would go black if you wore them outside in the Florida sun - at least one friend had his ruined by going fishing with it on. Now I wear digital watches with hands and no LCD at all.

      My wife and I were trying to remember when we learned to tell time and are pretty sure we learned before we started school, but I remember sitting in some class making clock faces with paper plates cutout hands. I'd swear it was first grade.

  8. My son's school utilized something called 'Accelerated Math', which I was never fond of. You were given a worksheet, and a bubble card onto which you colored in your answers from four choices on the worksheet.

    When, in your lifetime, did you have to figure out a maths problem and had four choices? If you are figuring your checkbook, or estimating your groceries, etc., you have to pull the correct number out of the air. This program didn't teach maths, it taught 'pick the best answer'.

    His teacher did say to him, 'If you can do it in your head (Mental Math), then you don't have to show your work.' Then she proceeded to mark every problem wrong that she thought he didn't do in his head. Because my son is lazy with a pencil, he taught himself to do all of it in his head. Bonus: He got second in a Maths competition in Trigonometry in our state, without using a calculator, because he forgot his!

    But I think that in our zeal to introduce techy stuff to the youngest among us, we are handicapping them and their developing brains. Do third graders really need to be able to a power point? By the seventh grade, that technology will be obsolete. Wouldn't it be better to teach them utilizing books, fat pencils, big chief tablets, and workbooks in the beginning, and then make the switch to tech just before they graduate?

  9. To chime in as a younger reader, late 20's. I can read analog clocks just fine, but I picture time with a digital display in my head. I live abroad, and time zones are simple addition or subtraction. I know what noon looks like, and around when sunrise and sunset happen, and can work out the motion of the sun from there.

    Being able to write manually is a whole 'nother barrel of fish, though. That's not ok.

    And to the Big Ben/Sharia Law dude, who do you think tuaght us how to use 0-9 in the first place?

  10. Let's be fair: the ignorant little f**ktards can't spell or do math either, so they may as well ban books and tests while they're at it.

    Just change the name to Juvenile Jail, put in cable TV and a weight pile, and fire the teachers, hiring guards at half the rate, and the liberalification of education will be complete.