Timing devices

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Bring out the science behind time by investigating how to make a variety of timing devices from shadow sticks and sundials to water clocks and marble timers

Timing devices have been used throughout the centuries. Some were basic, others more sophisticated, but most of the methods used fall into two main types. The first type of timer uses a slow process that can be graduated so smaller periods of time can be measured. Water clocks and candle clocks both use this method. The second type of timer involves the counting of many identical or similar movements. This effect is created by the steady rhythmic swing of a pendulum or, in modern times, by the movement of a quartz crystal, which can vibrate as much as 100,000 times a second.

These pages are devoted to instructions for making timing devices using both these methods, and science and D&T skills will be put to good use. Children should be encouraged to formulate their own ideas and investigate how well their timing devices function. The activities use everyday materials but children will need to know how to use a stopwatch with some accuracy.

Ages 7-9

Marble timer

  1. Explain to the children that they are going to make a marble timer. Provide them with activity sheet six, which gives instructions for making a marble timer, and organise the children into small groups or pairs. Demonstrate how to fold and fix some pieces of card onto the side of a large box to make the runners and provide stopwatches for the children to time how long their marbles takes to roll to the cup at the bottom.
  2. As an extension activity, set the time first, say ten seconds, and then ask the children to experiment with the slope of the runners to match the time.
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