Learning to Tell Time with DreamBox Virtual Manipulatives


When our DreamBox team designs virtual manipulatives, we aspire to create interactive tools that don’t merely enhance existing manipulatives.  We want our digital lessons to be transformative learning experiences for students that couldn’t exist without technology.

Here’s an example.

So we’ve all seen a clock like this one before. It’s a really clever tool I’ve always enjoyed.  It helps students make sense of the relationship between minutes and hours, and I’m sure most students using DreamBox have one in their classrooms that they’ve used with their teacher. When we were designing our DreamBox virtual clock, we didn’t want to merely create a digital substitute for this. We also didn’t want to just make an interactive clock that students would use to answer questions on a digitized worksheet.  Certainly students need to know how to set a clock and read a clock. But there is so much more mathematical thinking that can be done with the clock as a measurement tool.

So here’s our DreamBox virtual clock. We built it to engage students in significantly different learning tasks than were previously possible.  We’ve used new technology to redefine how students can think critically about clocks and measuring time.  Here are a few of the innovative things we’ve done to deepen student understanding.

In DreamBox lessons, we never start by showing students what to do or telling students what to think.  Instead, we start with a question or task. Here, we ask the same question a classroom teacher might ask – how many rotations of the minute hand represent eight hours. Notice the student is only able to move the minute hand, and only if they need it to figure out the answer.  We also have similar lessons about the relationship between the second and minute hand, which is not typically possible in classrooms with hand-held clocks.

When students start setting the time themselves, our virtual clock has multiple scaffolds and representations that enable DreamBox to differentiate and adapt for each student. We have a matching digital clock, the hour and minute labels on the hands themselves, all 60 minutes are marked, and all 12 hours are labeled. Even though both hands are active, the student is able to set the clock to 6:15 pm using only the hour hand.  As students progress, the scaffolds are removed. Here there are very few labels, though students could use the small reference clocks to the left.

Because students could set a clock using only the minute hand – which is a very inefficient solution method – we also have lessons limiting the number of times a student can adjust the clock. Students must think strategically and make optimal moves before their hourglass icons disappear.

This next lesson is probably my favorite.  The minute hand is broken, and students must set the clock using only the hour and second hands. This student first spins the second hand repeatedly, but quickly realizes that will take a while. Moving the hour hand first is much better.  Then the second hand can be used to get the precise answer. Note that the problem only requires precision to the nearest minute, so the second hand could be anywhere in that minute, not just at 0. Students realize that it’s 4:00 all minute long.

Of course we also have lessons where students read clocks.  Sometimes they have scaffolding, including the timeline below the clock. But in order to be proficient, they eventually need to read clocks without any labeling or supports.

We also have later lessons in which students add and subtract time as well as work with elapsed time. For students using DreamBox, these lessons are much easier because they have a strong conceptual understanding of how time is measured and represented on clocks.

At DreamBox, we’re building innovative lessons, tools, and games that redefine how technology can support student exploration, reasoning, and success. Our tools aren’t merely a digital substitute or small enhancement for existing tools. Their strategic design is precisely what enables our adaptive engine to be intelligent – differentiating uniquely for each student in real-time.  We chose to redefine how students could think mathematically about clocks and make sense of measuring time. But this DreamBox lesson isn’t just about time.  It’s about giving students time to think for themselves.  After all, it’s the thought that counts.  Thanks for your time.