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Assembly point - Time for some clock-watching

Features | Published in TES Newspaper on 27 March, 2009

The start of the British summer means more than lighter nights. Get pupils to look at the real reasons why clocks go forward

British Summer Time officially starts at 2am on Sunday, and while some people will rejoice that summer will formally begin, others feel that such an archaic idea has no roots in a 24/7 world. With some imagination, your assembly could change pupils’ outlook on this annual occurrence.

Start by telling pupils why we mark the occasion. Explain that the idea was first proposed by Benjamin Franklin in 1784, but it took many years for William Willett, who owned a building business, to campaign for the notion to finally be adopted in 1916. He reasoned that the move would not only improve the nation’s health and happiness during World War I, but save energy by more efficiently using daylight hours more efficiently. However, the move has split the nation since, with some objecting to the dark mornings that pose a hazard for children leaving for school.

Encourage pupils to use the idea as a starting point for a debate, by introducing the advantages and disadvantages of the idea. The positives include the fact there are fewer road traffic accidents, those who are employed on a nightshift have one less hour of work, and children learn faster in natural daylight, which is especially useful for after-school clubs.

Equally though, there are those who feel the extra hour creates problems. For those responsible for maintenance in large schools, hospitals and workplaces, the number of devices that need the time altering can be overwhelming and people are more likely to miss flights or appointments the next day due to sleeping in or miscalculating the time.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine also stated that, in the week after the clocks go forward the risk of having a heart attack increases by 5 per cent, especially during the first three days. This, Swedish scientists say, is probably due to the loss of an hour’s sleep, the disruption in the body’s circadian rhythms and the resulting sleep disturbance.

Highlight the more serious implications of the idea, for example for those who experience Seasonal Affective Disorder. Often suffering from depression during the winter, they appreciate having the extra hour and rejoice that the approach of daylight saving signals the start of summer.

You could use visual and auditory aids in your assembly, perhaps with a slideshow of images associated with summer or the use of music as pupils enter and exit to symbolise the lightness of mood summer brings. Katrina and the Waves’ song “Walking on Sunshine” or Mungo Jerry’s classic “In the Summertime” are two possibilities.

You could also widen out the daylight saving issue to other curriculum areas. In English, pupils could also use the idea for an original writing piece on the lost hour. Science lessons could look at the effects of prolonged sunshine on plants, animals and humans. Psychology pupils could focus on the effects of the sun on people’s mental health and behaviour.

Whatever direction you choose to take, you might like to finish by leaving pupils to ponder a few intriguing questions. Where does the missing hour go? What would you do with that hour if you could get it back again? And finally, what are you going to do with your extra hour of daylight each day? After all, you don’t get it back. Well, not until October.


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