Don’t forget that the deadline for this year’s Flame Challenge is coming up. Your mission: to explain “Time” to a group of 11-year-olds, who will be sternly judging your work. Get your submissions in by March 1, either video or written (less than 300 words).
Here’s my attempt. (Just given the likely number of entries, winning seems like a long shot, so I don’t mind encouraging other submissions or giving away all my best lines.) 300 words is hard, and aiming squarely at 11-year-olds who are judging a bunch of submissions is also no easy feat. But it’s good practice. I personally first fell in love with science when I was 10, so 11-year-olds are a great audience to aim at.
Admittedly the definitions I propose below could be accused of being circular, but without using technical jargon I think it’s appropriate to aim for intuitive understanding rather than perfect rigor.
Time is not hard to understand! How time works can be tricky, but time itself isn’t that mysterious.
We live in a world full of stuff. Chairs, trees, planets, stars, all kinds of things. This stuff is spread throughout space–everything has a location somewhere or another. And all this stuff, at various positions in space, happens over and over again, slightly differently each time. Things move, age, transform. Planets orbit stars, animals eat and sleep, people play and fight and think and learn. The universe doesn’t sit still.
Time is the label we stick on different moments in the life of the world. There is the universe at 2 p.m. July 1st 2013, the universe at 2:01 p.m., and so on. Just like a page number tells you where you are in a book, time tells you when you are in the universe. Moments of time are pages in the book of the universe.
We can measure time using clocks and calendars—things that repeat themselves in a predictable way. Every time the Earth revolves around the Sun, it rotates around its axis about 365 times. Every time the little hand goes around a clock dial, we can be sure the big hand goes around twelve times.
Time gets mysterious when we think about past, present, and future. We can remember what happened yesterday, but we can’t remember tomorrow. It seems obvious, but why is it true? Why does everyone – everyone! – get born young, and then grow old? We can choose what to do next in our lives, but we can’t un-choose events in the past, things that have already happened. The past is in the books, but the future remains to be shaped. Let’s hope we choose wisely!