Time -- Then and Now

Math Activity

In this activity, students build a timeline to further understanding of historical sequence and explore simultaneous developments in ancient cultures.


  1. Prepare for this activity by stringing wire across a wall or chalkboard. It should be reachable by the shortest student and fairly taut. Label index cards or small pieces of paper with the following dates: 6000 BC, 5000 BC, 4000 BC, 3000 BC, 2000 BC, 1000 BC, AD 1, AD 1000. Tape the dates in the correct order at even intervals along the wire or string to make a timeline.

  2. If necessary, review with students the concept of a timeline and the definitions of AD and BC. If you wish, have volunteers locate events on the timeline using the following dates.

    3100 B.C. earliest Egyptian writing
    2500 B.C. earliest writing in the Indus valley (India)
    1200 B.C. first writing in China
    1000 B.C. invention of the Phoenician alphabet
    A.D. 1821 Cherokee alphabet invented by Sequoya
    A.D. 1867 invention of the typewriter

  3. When you are satisfied that students understand the concepts, divide the class into small groups. Assign an ancient civilization to each group. You may wish to assign any of the ancient civilizations in the following list:

    Ancient Egypt
    Ancient Israel
    Ancient Greece
    Ancient Mesopotamia
    Ancient China
    Ancient Nubia
    Ancient India
    Maya and Inca
    Nok People

    Tell students they are going to research their civilization and, as a group, choose what they think are the ten most significant dates in that people's history. They will then write the date of the event and a short description on an index card or small piece of paper. When all the cards are complete, have students tape or clip the event cards to the timeline in the correct places.

  4. Have a class review of the timeline. Ask: "How does a timeline help us to study events?" Discuss with students the relationships among events. Are some of the simultaneous developments coincidences, or could there be cause-and-effect explanations? Elicit theories from students about the interaction of cultures and cause-and-effect relationships.

    For example, a famine in one country could have caused it to start a war with a neighboring country. The famine might be the event mentioned in one culture, and the war in the other.


You may wish to have students write short reports comparing events or explaining cause and effect relationships between certain events.

Students might like to transfer the timeline, as a whole, to paper or create a web site, adding illustrations and other additional information. Have students research the Gregorian calendar or other world calendars and report on how and by whom they were developed. Then, for students interested in ancient Rome, have them find out why 46 B.C. was called "the year of confusion." (Answer: In order to get his new calendar on track, Julius Caesar declared the year 46 B.C. to have 442 days.)

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