Making clocks

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By John Davisteacher and freelance writer

Create simple water-powered clocks in your classroom.

Archaeological evidence shows that water clocks were developed by ancient civilisations like the Egyptians, the Babylonians and the Greeks and may have been used in China as early as 4000 BC. In Ancient Greece the science of timekeeping by using water was known as clepsydra (which literally means ‘to steal water’). Water clocks in ancient times became particularly useful when the Sun went down although the Greeks also used them in the daytime to limit the time of speeches. Clocks used either water moving in or out of the device. More sophisticated water clocks rang gongs or bells, moved pointers or dials or opened small doors or windows like those on cuckoo clocks.

Experiment One

Water clock 2
Start with a simple inflow system.
  • Stand two large plastic beakers next to each other, one the normal way up and the other inverted.
  • Take a third beaker and make a small hole near its base with a drawing pin.
  • Rest the third beaker on the rims of the other two so that water can drip slowly out of it into the container placed the right way up.
  • Fill the third beaker with water.
  • The level of the water that drips into the receiving beaker during say each minute should be recorded on the side using a felt tip pen.
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