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Warning! Are You Sabotaging Your Students?

Ok, maybe the headline was a little TOO dramatic.  But I started to think about this the other day when I began teaching these skills:   telling time and counting money.  In ten years, these little second graders are going to be seniors in high school!  So here I am teaching them to tell time on an analog clock.  And now, using the fake plastic money to learn how to count money. It seems outdated.

Still teaching outdated skills?

But think about it?  In ten years, will there be ANY analog clocks around other than Big Ben?  Pretty much everywhere you look you see digital clocks.  I remember my younger brother always going to the digital clock in our house when he needed to know the time (and that was more than 30 years ago!).  My own kids do the same!  They did learn how to tell time on an analog clock. But because they weren’t obligated or had the need to use an analog clock (other than the one in school), they literally started to forget how to tell time on it.  But are there still advantages of using an analog clock?

Uhg! I AM GETTING OLD! (when did that coin change?)

Let’s talk about coins and money.  True story.  I had no idea the new nickel had Jefferson facing forward!  Since I have been mostly teaching third grade for the past ten years, teaching second grade is new to me this year.  I haven’t taught lessons on money in a LONG time.  And I hate carrying around change! So I never really paid attention to the difference in the coins.  Ok, I did know about the new quarters.

The new updated nickel

So here I am teaching my students how to count coins.  What’s the biggest hang-up or obstacle so far?  Recognizing the coins!  So to my surprise, the new nickel has Thomas Jefferson looking forward instead of a profile. I guess I hadn’t been paying attention to coins for a LONG time.  As I said before, I hate carrying around change. If I ever have any, I just put them in a box and collect it until I can take it to coin counter (free coin counting at my credit union, btw).

So when my students asked me what a coin was in their math book, I said to look at the resource chart that we made together or to look in their math journal.  Of course, it had the old nickel!  So a quick lesson on the new nickel.  But think about it.  In ten years, will we STILL be using coins or will we be a cashless society?

THE iGENs (they’re in your classroom right now!)

What skills are we teaching today that will NOT be needed in ten years by this generation?  By the way, they are called the iGen generation.  Fitting name!  Unlike their older brothers and sisters who are the Millenials who GRADUALLY went from laptops to tablets to phones, this generation is glued to a portable screen (tablets and phones) full time.

The iGen students are here now

They are growing up in a world we can not even imagine what it will be like in ten years. The first tablet, the iPad, was introduced in 2010…the year my second graders were born!  They’ve grown up around screens and swiping.   What skills will they need by the time they graduate from high school?  It’s hard to predict the future, but there are trends we see coming.

In this THREE part post, let’s examine some skills that may or may NOT be needed in ten years time (2028).  Part THREE will look at some recent skills that will be of critical importance in any future that comes (think digital citizenship).


As I explained above, the only analog clocks we see anywhere nowadays seem to be in classrooms and grandfather clocks (oh yeah, they might have Roman numerals, too!).  Yes, I still have one in my classroom.  But you know what, the school Chromebooks also display the time digitally.  Guess which one the students prefer to use?  Is it a losing battle?  Do we choose between analog or digital?  If you’re proficient at telling time using an analog clock, the switch to a digital clock is no big thing.

Analog clocks? Are they relics?

But think about all that went into learning how to tell time on an analog clock.  The movement of the hands on a clock vs numbers just changing on a display.  You could actually SEE the progression of time.  Granted that on a digital clock, you can usually use a stopwatch function to see the passage of time. But looking at an analog clock allowed us to do mental math (counting on or counting backward).

How many more minutes or hours do I have to wait?  You could visualize the hands moving on that clock.  It is very hard to imagine or visualize the numbers on a digital display changing to figure out how much time is left of how long I’ll have to wait.  That involves adding and subtracting in your head, while with an analog clock, it’s a matter of just counting on or counting backward.

Counting down the minutes in school


But in ten more years, will there be mostly analog or digital clocks on display in public areas?  What about on screens?  Probably more digital than analog displays.  Digital just takes up less space and is easier to change or adjust.  So if students looking at a digital display can mentally add or subtract, then that’s probably just as skillful as counting forward or backward on an analog clock.

Digital clocks are here to stay

In the meantime though, I still think it’s important to continue teaching time on an analog clock because it is just more than just learning how to tell time.  It’s using mental math and visualizing, which are still essential math skills no matter what century you live in.

I use the analog clock to teach counting by fives, understanding quarters and fourths and the concept of AM and PM.

Archaic language for telling time

What I do think we should stop teaching are all the VARIOUS ways of saying the same time.  You know…half past, quarter to, 10 ’till.  Does anyone other than our grandparents even use that terminology today?  Ok, they might hear it more often in different parts of the country, and they will definitely read it in older stories, but do we get our “bang for the buck” when we take so much time to teach these archaic phrases?  I’m happy with my second graders just knowing it’s “two-thirty” rather than “half past 2.”  The only term that should be taught is o’clock!


Take a look at Part Two, to examine some more skills such as counting money and reference skills such as library skills and dictionary skills.

What do you think so far?  Do you feel you teach skills you know won’t be relevant in ten years? Or maybe they won’t be relevant, but are necessary to develop OTHER skills?  Or are we ONLY teaching them because they will appear on state standardized tests? Share your thoughts in the comment section below!

Don’t Go Yet!

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What are some other skills you feel are outdated but we’re still teaching?

Share them in the comments!

Warning! Are You Sabotaging Your Students?
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1 thought on “Warning! Are You Sabotaging Your Students?”

  1. I think you leave out the importance of history here. A great many classic books and stories use the “quarter till,” and “ten after” family of terms and other specialized jargon such as “six bells,” and whether kids will themselves use the terms, others around them — and not merely grandparents (I’m sitting right here!) — they probably will need to know them to read legal documents, historical documents, older movies, plays, etc.

    It’s already difficult for my middle school students to understand that I had a single teacher in my classroom through seventh grade which was the oldest class in our elementary school, that not a single student rode a bus to my elementary school, or that we rode city buses to high school for 10 cents bus fare (speaking of coins), or that we could ride our bicycles in the actual road at age seven, and stay out in the woods or the streets without an adult from early to late on Saturdays.

    Military time is still important, but how about those dramatic terms like, “high noon,” and phone numbers without area codes, but having words in them … like my childhood phone number OVerlook 3-3255?

    I admit to needing many footnotes to read Shakespeare in eighth grade, and having to look up lots of terminology to read _The Scarlet Letter_.

    The fact is that English has a great many ways to say lots of things, and that we are richer for it. We should be careful about what we need to know and the criteria we use for schools … what is lost and what is gained.

    I have a widget that shows a large “analog” clock on my phone. A great many of my middle school students want to know how to put it on their phone. Sometimes an “overload” of different ways to do the same thing, e.g., telling time, encourages the students who choose to be bored to bring their skills up at least to the minimal level of understanding the “digital” time, eh?

    I don’t think we need to retain the “Captain’s Log” dating of Star Trek, or the Klingon language. Some things should be optional.

    My father-in-law got bored in first grade and took off out the window for a day in the swamp. His uncle had taught him to tell time by the sun, so he was able to get home at the right time after school. About seventy years later he was telling this story when his brother, several years older, laughed and told us that he had done the same thing one day when he was in first grade.


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