The story of Ahmed Mohamed, a 14-year-old aspiring engineer from Texas who was arrested when he bought a digital clock to school, serves as a horrible reminder of how fearful and suspicious people can be of intelligence and technological curiosity. Ahmed, who brought the clock to school to show his teacher, was arrested when staff at his school were convinced it was actually a bomb. Police later informed reporters that they did not believe a student would build a clock merely for curiosity (!) Sadly, this story may also be indicative of the enduring prejudice surround people of the Muslim faith and culture. It also seems particularly baffling that a device that looks like a clock is perceived as threat in a Texas school when increasing numbers of teachers and lecturers in US schools and universities are being armed, which has already caused a least one fire arm related accident.
Sadly, history is full of scientists, engineers and inventors who have been berated and even arrested for their work – Galileo Galilei, Charles Darwin and Alfred Kinsey to name just a few. While it is horrifying that anyone in the 21st century exhibits such regressive attitudes, the numerous means of mass communication in the modern world do offer students like Ahmed Mohamed a certain amount of protection from their antagonists and also a way to connect with people who support scientific and technical investigation. As the story of Ahmed’s arrest spread, numerous high profile public figures (including Mark Zuckerberg) took to social media to offer their support. However, support was not limited to those in STEM related careers: the actor and activist George Takei sent an immensely empathic message that drew on his experiences as a Japanese American who was sent to an internment camp because his heritage was perceived as threatening. Artists and musicians (including Pharrell Williams, Janelle Monáe) have also rallied behind the #IStandwithAhmed hashtag – a fitting acknowledgement of the way penalising curiosity, imagination and investigation will damage all areas of society, not just science and technology.
To show my support for Ahmed, here are a few of my resources linked to clocks and measuring time:
2) A clock based on the Fibonacci sequence
3) A neat explanation of modular arithmetic (also known as clock arithmetic), which is widely used in computer science and cryptography.
4) Some work based on convert between fractions of hours and minutes e.g. how 0.5 of an hour is 30 minutes not 50 minutes. I find this is a common sticking point for students doing calculations on speed, distance and time