This summer, I am teaching 4 sections of 3rd grade, math, with a mini unit in economics. I haven’t taught this grade level before, and have been finding delight. I am doing my best to follow the curriculum, but as I am a random, sometimes I just have to take the” birdwalks”.( I keep my timer handy). One question we were scripted to ask is to “define time”. So, I asked the question, and had them discuss in think/pair/share format ( which means, in english, that students talk in pairs, then share to class. Here is a rough transcript of the morning.
” What is time?” ” Time is money!” Terrell states emphatically. Teacher takes out wallet. ” Maybe…So, I have 6$ here.. that means I have 6 times?”
Confused look. ” What is time?” “Time is what the clock tells you” says Gabriella whispers.
“Could be. But what if the clock doesn’t talk?” More confused looks.
“Time is like when you were in your mom’s tummy”- Lakeisha.
“”times is when you multiply” said PaShoua
“Past, Present, & Future” says Ricardo.
“Or how long you live” -Zong.
a boy with a mohawk speaks up.”Before there were clocks, people used sundials to tell time”.
“But what IS it? What is time?” All eyes were looking up. Minds thinking, trying to find the right words. A delicious, intense silence fills the room Finally Elijah, a soft eyed boy who daydreams alot, and moves in slow motion speaks up. ” Time is something that revolves”.
Wow. rich conversations!
I imagine that the writers of the curriculum intended a more linear conversation . But time? As a player of improvised music( sometimes called “jazz”) this elusive question sends us off the deep end of speculation, makes us look “way off yonder”, and sends us down a three day dialogue.
Being professional, I led the conversation back to minutes, hours, days, etc, the stuff that is measured. But how do we subdivide it? ( oh, no, here we go again!)
I thought about Max Roach,how he was a master of time, and Abby Lincoln , her delightful phrasing, how she moved slightly, languidly BEHIND the beat, rich and unhurried. ( now think of them being married… was their perceptions of TIME an issue?)
If you want to be distracted for days, talk to a drummer about Time.
Think of Elvin Jones, with Coltrane moving from post bop ” Giant Steps”, “Impressions” to ” Welcome”, where time is only implied, time is swelling ocean waves, crashing on the shore- think of all the ways to subdivide time…. those motifs which can be notated, and those ideas that cannot.
Time:a year of my mother’s later life ( she died at 93), compared to these student’s life ( about age 9)
And then, there’s the Lotus Sutra, which talks about time of a very long time ago. I have to process this a little more before I talk about it, but it’s HUGE!
To get back, we had a rich discussion: since I won’t see these students again after July 12, I want to have another discussion about time. Perhaps on the last day of school, I can play for them some great music- contrasting perceptions, and do some art in conjunction.
I had a wonderful gig on friday with my trio. I had left my watch at home- which was a little unnerving, but in the end an interesting decision! So, I close with the question. ” What is time?”