The King's foot, Andy's experiments, and more. In this episode, Andy, Emily and Adam discuss standards and conventions. What colour should clock hands be? Can too many conventions lead to misconceptions? Plus, find out where the world's original standard ruler lives.
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Hi, I'm Andy Psarianos.
Hello, I'm Emily Guille-Marrett.
Hi, I'm Adam Gifford.
This is The School of School podcast. Welcome to The School of School podcast.
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Okay, everyone. Today we are talking about my favourite subject, standards. And in particular, the standard clock. Let me ask you a question. What is the standard colour for the number two on all clocks?
Is that actually a thing? Black.
Standard colour for number two on o'clock?
Are you having us on?
Okay. All right. I'll make it easier for you. What is the standard colour for the hour hand on a clock?
I'm going black for the hour hand.
There's no such thing. It's nonsense. I'm just pulling your legs. There's just no such thing. Okay. Should there be? Okay. So what's the standard colour for 10?
Again? Are you talking... Like on a clock aren't they all black. They're all black on a clock. Everything's black on a clock, unless it's a class clock.
A tweet that came in that I saw, somebody said, "Why are you not using standard clocks in your textbooks?" And then they showed me a picture of a clock that has one hand is blue and the other hand is red. And that's their idea of a standard clock. And then in our books, it's the other way around. Right? And I'm like, "Uh-oh, we got a problem here." It's an interesting problem.
Let me tell you a little story. So, I haven't done it for a few years, but I used to run a study group, bunch of kids, local kids, all went to same primary school, all the same age. And I brought them in and I promised their parents, I would teach them some maths. So I tried out every learning theory, everything I learned about how to... I tried it out on all these kids. I wanted to know how far I could push it with them. And there was a wide range of kids there, including my own daughter. I would never admit this to them, but that's what I did. It was an experiment for me, the whole thing. And I stayed with these kids for several years. So I got to see them all the way through to the end of primary school.
Here's an experiment I did with them one day. I took a counter that was green and I showed it to them. And I said, "What is the value of this?" And I was expecting the kids to look at me with that look that they go, "I have no idea what Andy's talking about again." But they didn't. They said, "Yeah, it's 10." I was like, "Oh, what have I found?" So then I picked up a yellow counter and I showed it to them and they said, "It's a hundred."
And I was like... But they all agreed, it was no question. It was like, categorically that's a hundred. Oh my goodness. What is happening? A bit of investigation, the school that they went to thought that it would be a good idea to standardise the colours for the numbers. So that, the Base Ten materials they had linked up with the counters that they had. And throughout their entire journey, yellow always represented 100. And 10 all represented 10. So when they had their Base Ten Blocks for 10, they were, whatever colour was green, and the hundreds were yellow. And then when they went to the counters later on, the counters were those quantities. Now, is that a good idea or a bad idea? I don't know. What do you guys think?
Bad idea. Just, I feel quite strongly about that one.
Why is it a bad idea? Makes it easier, doesn't it?
No, because then you are learning with the colour. You've got two things to learn, not just one thing to learn. I feel like that's the kind of confusion that really frustrates me. It's like when people do... Oh, this is going to be a bit... I should be careful saying this. But for me doing phonics with actions, because why are you teaching the child the action and the sound? And then the children will say that, "The ant is ah." And then they're going like this up their arm. And you just think, you're giving them too many. It's like the colour and the thing. So I don't know, just my instinct is you don't need to do that. And you don't need to... Like 10 can be green or pink or orange or blue. It's 10! So that was quite passionate.
Yeah, it was. Adam, you're dying to jump in. I can tell.
If you introduce a child to a dog and call it a cat and for the rest of their time, it's called a cat, and it's called cat, and it's called a cat, and it's called a cat, and it's called a cat, and it's called a cat. When they go out into the big wide world and they see a dog, they're going to say, "There's a cat." Right? You've got to understand that, yeah, of course we have to use something. I mean, something has a colour, whether it's white, black, blue, red, whatever, but we've got to use something. But if the idea that the children walk away with, is that it is limited and restricted to that number. And like you're saying Emily, at a glance we might be able to see a colour before we actually see what it represents, then we're in trouble.
Yeah. So look. No one's going to argue that. You need some conventions. We can't operate as a society without certain conventions. Let's be honest. There is no rule anywhere that says that blue represents the hour hand or the minute hand, there is no rule, so... And don't make one up please for your kids because you're not helping them. You really aren't. So if you think it's easier to teach time because the clock in the book has the same colours as the clock that's in your kid's hand, something's gone wrong in my opinion. You're making associations that are non mathematical associations to mathematical concepts. And you're creating constructs in those children's minds that may be difficult to undo later. So just think of the context of 10 being equal to green and a hundred...
Well, when they go to write the national exam, if the exam writer used different colours, all of a sudden you've put that kid at a serious disadvantage. That's just in a testing scenario, but also in real life that has absolutely no truth. So how does it help them ever? It doesn't. It's just convenient for you as a teacher. It's a shortcut that you've put in place to make your life easier. But you're not helping anyone with it. So that's kind of the lens you need to look at it through. So clocks come in all shapes and sizes.
So when someone tweeted this online, I had no idea that anybody thought there was such a thing as a standardised teaching clock. So I looked it up. Google says, "There is no such thing as a standardised teaching clock. There are more clocks that use one colour scheme than any other colour scheme. But there are many clocks who use completely different colour schemes. And some of them use no colour schemes at all." So that leads me to believe that if you're going to teach everyone that there's a standardised... Or you're going to rely on your kids, being able to recognise the standard teaching clock, that the minute hand is always the same colour and the hour hand is always a different colour or a specific colour, then you're not setting those kids up for success in my mind because that's not how you tell time.
Just an observation, just a single observation. I don't think I have ever... I'm pretty sure I'm right in saying this. I don't think I have ever seen a clock in a classroom... On the wall, I don't mean used for teaching. That was anything other than black handed. I'll tell you why, because they're usually the cheapest or the ones that all line up... Like with one school, we had some of these flash ones where they're all sort of synchronised. God forbid there's a minute between the classes and one class got out a minute early for lunch or something like that. But even with those ones that are flash, you're paying top dollar, they are black handed. So I have never seen anything other than black hands on a classroom clock.
So what other places in the classroom do we fall into these traps? So I gave you a scenario that I ran into with a group of kids that I was working with, where they associated colour with value. This teacher has brought up this association of colour with hands on a clock. What other places does this fall...? Emily gave us one about phonics.
Oh, I'll tell you one that I think... And there must be a standardisation process somewhere. Every ruler is 30 centimetres in the history of the world. No matter how big it is, it's got to be 30 centimetres because they all are. So I don't know who's decided that 30 is the optimum length? And there are rulers that come in different sizes.
Did you? Yeah. Well, there you go. Well, I don't want to say that a 30 centimetre rule predates you. I got to be honest.
I have a theory. 30 centimetre ruler, it comes from the Imperial measurement system. I'm looking for a ruler here, I know I have one here somewhere, I don't know where it is.
Because if you get a smaller one, you can have a 15, but that's half of 30. So it's just a cheat. It still comes from the 30, doesn't it?
Here's the theory. 30 centimetres is close to 12 inches, which is a foot. For a long time when they were moving from using Imperial to Metric, in many parts of the world, including Canada and probably same in Britain, 12 inches is a standard for a ruler. Conveniently on the other side, 30 centimetres fits in. I think that's where it came from.
Yeah. It makes sense. I mean, of course it makes sense. Especially a standard measurement of that size and it fits, it's handy, it's usable.
Yeah and it kind of relates to the size of a sheet of paper and there's all kinds of reasons why, and it's got something to do with that. I'm sure.
You've just brought back a little nostalgic memory for me when I was really little at school and I cannot tell you, I'd even forgotten I felt like this at the time. But the excitement of the teacher when they would bring up the metre ruler to put up on-
-To make... The "Ooh." When I was little, the size of that ruler and that just used to get... I love... I think as I'm-
Did it have like a little handle on it?
Yeah, no. It was amazing.
Okay, yeah. Like it had a little... Yeah and you could hold it and yeah...
No, do you know what? It didn't. It was a big... I don't think it did. I think it was... In my head, it was a big wooden one, just a big wooden... Huge, it did a metre. And I was a little kid and just thought that was just the coolest thing ever. How sad is that? But it is true. It made me very... I would engage. I would engage.
But it is interesting these things crop up. The other one... I'm just looking, I've got my wee notebook in front of me and I'd hazard a guess, I don't have a ruler in front of me, but I imagine that my lines are seven millimetres and you are publishing. Is that not true? That the lines on a book... I mean, I know you can get different sizes. So you can... But I think that there's a standard width of a line. I'm just really looking around for a ruler now, I want to make sure this is true. But it's an international thing, it's seven-
It's a quarter of an inch.
Yeah. Okay. Right. So then going back to-
It's a quarter of an inch, which is about roughly seven millimetres.
And that, globally-
-Yeah. Tends to be optimum.
Let's see. 0.25 times 25.4, 6.35. What did I say? I think that's what it is. 6.35, quarter of an inch.
But someone's decided that that is the optimum size of how we should be writing.
All these things have an origin. And that would be an interesting podcast on its own, it's like, "Where did this standard come from?" I can only imagine it comes from someone just decided at some point and everyone followed suit. Just like one person stated that all the hands on clocks should be blue and the minute hand should be blue and the hour hand should be red. Someone could make that decision. And if enough people believe you and follow you, it can become a standard.
Now, there's actually an interesting thing, there are standards agencies like, ISO and CIE and all these places. There are actual... There's a metre, there used to be, it was made out of, I don't know, platinum or something or some interesting metal, metre ruler in Paris and the standards... Is it? Whatever it is. What is the standards? I can't remember what it is, but this was the official metre and it measured exactly one metre and everything is related to this. So it's like, "Okay, every metre needs to measure up to this metre. This is the standard one."
And now they ditched that. And now it's defined in a certain wave length of light. So now they've found another way, a more standard way. Because even in platinum or whatever this metre stick was made out of, slight variation in temperature and it grows and shrinks because all physical objects change size with temperature. So, even that wasn't that standard.
But in the old days it was even more fun than that because everybody had their own standards. And it was often measured off the king. So a cubit would be the king's cubit. And that would become the standard measure. Or a foot would be like, "Well, we're going to measure the king's foot." And then that becomes a standard unit of measure for the entire country. But of course the other guy's got a different king and he's got a smaller foot. So if you live over there, everything's smaller. So hence standardisation. But as far as I know, there are no standards for clocks, but there are standards for time.
I was just thinking, as you were saying that, Greenwich Mean Time... There's universally accepted time zones, but also within what is 24 hours and 12... There are certain standards that the majority of the world agrees to.
This is something that drives me bonkers all the time. Different countries write the date in different ways. Some people write the year, then the month, then the day. Some people write the month, the day and the year. Some people put the day, the month, the year. There's all kinds of possible different variations when you go from country to country. There is actually an international standard for writing the date, which was ratified by all the countries but nobody follows it. Isn't that crazy?
And I think that... But I love that.
So the international standard is ignored.
There's a standard response to the standard. Awesome.
That's always happens because the local convention is stronger than the international standard. So there you go. Thanks everyone.
Thank you for joining us on The School of School podcast.