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Putting Time In Perspective

This activity is designed to help students gain a feel for time spans.  It was inspired by Chapter 1 in Carl Sagan's The Dragons of Eden (1977). Sagan also depicted the Cosmic Calendar at the end of episode 1 of the Cosmos TV series in 1980. Here is a link to the Cosmic Calendar clip from the 2014 Cosmos:   The activity is a natural for any class where you want students to understand the relationship of events or lives in time.  It would also be useful for math teachers looking for "word problems" with which to practice arithmetic or simple algebra skills; or as a project for students learning to build spreadsheets.

  1. What you'll need before you start

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  1. Warming up
  2. Conducting the activity
  3. For more ideas that can be developed to extend this activity, have a look at these

Click here for access to a RealAudio recording of Robert Levine discussing and fielding questions about his book on NPR's Talk of the Nation (May 20, 1997).

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Click here for excerpts from the book.

For this book, Barbara Page painted 544 contiguous panels to depict more than 500 million years of the earth's history.

Click here to read an interview with Barbara Page.

Click here to see images from the book.

Encyclodia Britannica online presents a beautiful overview of humanity's efforts to measure time.  Click here for their text only version.

This online museum exhibit uses art from many cultures and time periods to illustrate the various ways humanity has come to see time.

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original web posting: Wednesday, September 9, 1998
last modified: Sunday, February 22, 2015