CountClock Hours and Minutes

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Introduction: CountClock Hours and Minutes

About: Openproducts' focus is on design of new products and on innovative approaches towards improving existing products. Most recent project is the CountClock, a concept facilitating children to learn telling the ...

Imagine that you don't know the numerals: how would you then look at an analogue clock? The numbers mean nothing to you and the hands are pointing in all directions... That's how young kids get to know clocks. Grown-ups look at the device quite often and kids may be fascinated and perhaps even frustrated since they can't tell the time themselves.

The CountClock is a special clock that simplifies telling the time. It was designed with a very young audience in mind (children aged 2 to 7 years old), but the resulting clock may be appreciated by people of all ages.

The CountClock Hours & Minutes has two features that simplify reading off time: firstly, time can be told by counting the lights (that’s why the clock is called CountClock) and secondly it has multiple learning levels that break down the confusing characteristics of a normal analog clock into separate learning steps of increasing difficulty.

The CountClock has been presented in a Meta Instructable (first published on January 29th, 2018) and has various separate Instructables explaining a number of aspects in more detail. The Meta Instructable is the best starting point for quickly overviewing the full series of publications . The Instructable you're now reading is the detailed Instructable regarding CountClock Hours & Minutes.

The control of the LEDs is being done by an Arduino board (Trinket Pro), driving 72 full-colour LEDs. The only hardware feature of the basic variant of the CountClock Hours & Minutes is a button on the backside, allowing to toggle between the various learning steps and display modes. This can be extended with multiple optional elements, such as a automatic dimmer for shading the LEDs, a bell that sounds the whole and the half hour, a device for keeping the time very precisely and a battery for cordless operation.

Step 1: Why Are Clocks So Confusing for Children?

An analog clock may not be very intuitive to children starting to learn how to tell the time, for the following reasons:

  1. Mixed Scales.
    The dual scales are difficult to read from: first, one should know that the hour hand points to the inner scale (the hours, from 1 to 12), whereas the minute hand points to the outer scale (the minutes, from 0 to 59).
  2. Continuous Timescale.
    Most of the time, the hour hand does not point to exactly a single hour's numeral, but to a position in between two discrete figures. In such cases, children often experience difficulties in deciding which hour the hand points to.
  3. Complexity.
    When learning to tell the time from a common analog clock it is needed to grasp multiple ambiguous concepts at the same time. It is hardly possible to decompose the clock into distinct learning steps, which makes it worse to understand the concept behind.
  4. Halves and Quarters.
    In common wording the dial is broken down into typical units: a "quarter of an hour" and the "half hour" being the most tangible. These units do not stand out from a common analog clock, one should just know how they are represented. This is confusing when learning to tell the time, especially when three quarters of an hour come into play.
  5. To and Past.
    After having understood that a quarter of an hour is composed of fifteen minutes, it is still difficult to judge whether it is a quarter to or past the hour, especially when the child is not familiar with the the concepts "clockwise" and "counterclockwise".
  6. Need for Numerals.
    For telling the time it is required to know figures: the numerals 1 to 12 at least.

The next step introduces the CountClock and its concept, which address all of the drawbacks listed above.

Step 2: Solution From the CountClock Design

The CountClock offers a step by step approach to telling the time. It provides solutions to problems mentioned in the previous, problems associated with the common analog clock. Learning to tell the time for children becomes more intuitive, and perhaps also less frustrating because of the following features:

  1. Clearly Separated Scales.
    Hours scale and minutes scale are visually separated by using two rings of lights, no dual scales.
  2. Only Discrete Positions are Shown.
    It is not needed to estimate the status of the CountClock because no intermediate values occur.
  3. Simplicity.
    Learning levels make it possible to start with the easier concepts (starter's level: only telling the hour of time) in order to decompose time-reading into separate learning steps. Elements of time-telling can be added gradually after each learning step has been completed successfully: the full hours, the half hours, the quarters, up to the minutes and the seconds. In the final learning step the precision of the time-scale equals the precision of the normal analog clock.
  4. Separate Entities for Half Hours and Quarters.
    In the early learning levels only the basic concepts of the clock are highlighted (half hours, quarters), at a price of not knowing the time exactly (which is not a problem for most children). Different colors modes allow to also represent "three quarters of an hour" as three separate quarters, colored differently. This makes it easier that the half hour is composed of two quarters.
  5. The Missing Quarter.
    Judging whether it is a "quarter to" or "past" the hour becomes more intuitive because of the full circle that is expected at the full hour. For example: at a quarter past five a single quarter is shown, clearly indicating that it is `five hours and a quarter'. At a quarter to five, only one quarter is "missing from the minutes circle": it's a quarter to the next hour.
  6. Counting Suffices.
    Counting is enough to read time from the CountClock. No knowledge is needed on numerals, the characters 1 to 12 do not come into play.

Furthermore, two additional design elements facilitate the learning process and the step towards reading out an analog clock. Firstly, the CountClock dial is round, similar to the analog clock. Secondly, the positioning of the lights in the clock representing the hours correspond to the locations where the numerals in an analog clock are placed. In other words, the angles of the lights in the CountClock are comparable to the numeral's angles in a common analog clock.

The CountClock housing is made from wood, a natural resource, which lends the device a solid appearance. Thus, the CountClock may be appreciated as well by people that surpassed the age of the target group and know already to tell time. What can be added here as an additional feature for this audience is that the clock is fully functional in the dark, perfectly suited for bedrooms.

Note: the animated picture in this step demonstrates CountClock Learning Level 3, which shows the hours and the quarters. All seven Learning Steps are introduced in the next step.

Step 3: CountClock Learning Levels

The CountClock uses small lights for indicating the time. The CountClock Hours Only version (introduced in a separate Instructable) has a circle of twelve lights from which it is only possible to tell the hour: it's either one o'clock or two o' clock: nothing in between.

The CountClock Hours & Minutes version, presented in this Instructable, also shows the minute scale.

This CountClock version has seven separate Learning Levels of increasing difficulty, and at the same time increasing precision (the pictures above show Learning Level 1 (first image, it's 9 o'clock there), Learning Level 2 (second image, where it is half past six) and Learning Level 3 (a quarter to four), next step shows Learning Level 7):

  • Learning Level 1
    Only shows the hours. The fact that the passed hours remain highlighted is a crucial educational aspect, allowing to count up to the actual hour. Since multicolored LEDs are used, many color modes can be defined.
  • Learning Level 2
    Indicates the whole and half hours. The half hour is presented as a joined section, with all minute-lights 1 to 30 on.The underlying idea is that this makes the half-hour an entity. The multicolored LEDs allow different color combinations to be used.
  • Learning Level 3
    Indicates the hours and 15-minute sections: in this way the quarters and half hours are displayed. To clearly present the quarters as individual entities the lights show different colors.
  • Learning Level 4
    Shows the minutes divided into 10-minute sections, in different colors.
  • Learning Level 5
    Shows the minutes divided into 5-minute sections, in different colors.
  • Learning Level 6
    Allows to precisely tell the time because the hours and all minutes are shown, including the second. Still, it is possible to count up to the actual time since the passed hour and minute lights remain on.
  • Learning Level 7
    Only shows the current hour, the current minute and the second. The aid of counting is absent in this level, so here the CountClock approaches the conventional analog clock: only the hands are missing. This mode has the lowest energy consumption, since only two lights are permanently on, and the second is blinking.

In the next step Learning Level 7 is presented in an animated picture: it's the most difficult Learning Level, but once children know how to interpret it, making the switch to regular analog clocks is quite easy.

Step 4: Learning Level 7 Is Very Similar to an Analog Clock

The animated picture above shows Learning Level 7, which is just as accurate as a conventional analog clock. It displays time, accurate up to the second.

The red light shows the hour just like the small hand of a regular clock, so not in a cumulative way like in Learning Levels 1 to 6. The blue light is the minute and the yellow light, going round the dial, represents the second. An educational detail is that when the second overlaps the minute, the colors blend: yellow and blue become green for an instant.

So: in the above image, time starts at 8:01:01.

The display here is very similar to the one from a normal analog clock. If a child knows how to interpret Learning Level 7, it's only a tiny step towards reading off an analog clock.

Editorial note: the animated picture above runs for nearly 4 minutes, and then starts from the beginning again. It runs until time shows 8:03:55.

Did you know that the CountClocks are open source products? Next step elaborates on the concept.

Step 5: CountClock Is an Open Source Product

The CountClocks are open source products, meaning that their design, or rather the documentation and drawings to make them, have been published under an open source license. Purpose is to ensure that the concept is available to anybody and that all world citizens can obtain the instructions to make a CountClock for own use, to give one away, or to sell it.

For the CountClock description, pictures, drawings, manufacturing files and program code a Creative Commons Attribution license was chosen, which means that it's appreciated in all cases to reference the project, preferably in this way:

CountClock.cc by openproducts.org (2018)
Released under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
Full license at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/legalcode

You might ask yourself: why giving all this away? Here is the answer: the best that may happen is that children worldwide learn telling the time from the CountClocks, either from the Hours Only or from the Hours & Minutes version. Open sourcing the product perhaps brings this objective within reach. What really helps is when people are actively communicating on the CountClock in a wide circle of acquaintances. So please feel free to contribute to the CountClock's success and point others to this website. Many thanks in advance!

And: CountClock Housings and ClountClock DIY Kits are sold in the openproducts webshop. Fully assembled CountClocks may become available as well, if there appears to be a demand for them.

Step 6: CountClock Housing

The CountClock housing is manufactured from a plank (preferably use certified wood) and has an oval shape. The difficult part is to precisely position the two circles of holes (12 for the hours and 60 for the minutes). The front panel may be quite thin (say 6 mm or 0.24 in), determined by the size of the light-pipes used. If you use transparent LEDs as light pipes, 8 mm (0.31 in) may be a suitable thickness for the hour lights, and 5 mm (0.20 in) may be a suitable thickness for the minute lights. The locations of the LEDs are determined by the Neopixel LED rings (see next step). The base of the Countclock Hours & Minutes version is 290 mm (11.4 in) and its height is 220 mm (8.7 in). The depth depends on the number of planks used for the housing, which is a result from the electronic components used inside the clock and the preferences for stability. The large Countclock presented here is 72 mm (2.8 in) deep, for which four planks are used.

The design files are available in SVG, EPS and DXF, for making it easy to adapt the design to your own ideas (use the SVG file for this purpose) or to use a CNC milling machine for making one exactly as it is shown here. The files are available in the next step.

In case you are not in a position to do the CNC milling yourself and don't want to purchase the ready-to-use CountClock housing through the Openproducts webshop, you could also decide to make the CountClock housing using hand-tools. It is suggested to use the EPS files for home-printing the sawing and drilling template on paper; be sure not to scale your print in order to keep the dimensions intact.

If you feel that it's too complicated or too time-consuming to make your own CountClock Housing, then you may also consider to buy the Housing in the openproducts webshop. Alternatively, you might also opt for a CountClock DIY Kit, which includes the basic electronic components to make your own CountClock.

Step 7: Design Files for CountClock Housing

CountClock.cc is an open source product, which means that everybody should have access to its design files.

The idea is that these design files should always be attributed to openproducts.org (CountClock.cc by openproducts.org (2018), Released under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License)

  • SVG: Scalable Vector Graphics, the source code of the CountClock Housing, see also further below. It can be edited in a simple text editor or with other software, for example the open source vector editing program Inkscape.
  • EPS: Encapsulated Postscript, good for printing.
  • DXF: Drawing Exchange Format, a CAD data file format developed by Autodesk.

It was mentioned already: if you feel that it's too complicated or too time-consuming to make your own CountClock Housing, then you may also consider to buy the Housing in the openproducts webshop.

The next step introduces the Protective Template.

Step 8: CountClock Safety Template

In the design of the Countclock a protective template disc is foreseen, to be placed between the electronic parts and the wooden Countclock housing. It is a round plastic slab, meant to separate the electronic parts from the wooden Countclock housing. Multiple reasons underpin the need for a protective template:

  1. Thermal Safety;
  2. Electrical Safety;
  3. Light Effect;
  4. Constructional Functionality;
  5. Screw Hole Mould.

A separate Instructable has been published explaining the reasons for the template in more detail: CountClock Protective Template Design.

In case you are not in a position to make the protective template yourself using a lasercutting machine and don't want to purchase the ready-to-use Countclock Protective Template through the Openproducts webshop, you could also decide to make the Countclock Protective Template using hand-tools. It is suggested to use the EPS files available below for home-printing the template for the protective template; be sure not to scale your print in order to keep the dimensions intact.

Step 9: Design Files for CountClock Protective Template

CountClock.cc is an open source product, which means that everybody should have access to its design files.

  • SVG: Scalable Vector Graphics, the source code of the CountClock Housing, see also further below. It can be edited in a simple text editor or with other software, for example the open source vector editing program Inkscape.
  • EPS: Encapsulated Postscript, good for printing.
  • DXF: Drawing Exchange Format, a CAD data file format developed by Autodesk.

The making of the Protective Template Discs is explained in a separate Instructable: CountClock Protective Template Design.

The next step introduces the design of CountClock's electronic parts.

Step 10: CountClock Electronics

In its most basic form, the CountClock Hours & Minutes' has five main electronic hardware components:

  1. A programmable open source controller, here the Adafruit Trinket Pro;
  2. Two multi-colour LED rings, here the Adafruit Neopixel 24 RGB LED ring and the Adafruit Neopixel 60 RGB LED ring;
  3. Light pipes, here LEDs were used;
  4. The protective template;
  5. Some simple electronic components: a button for selecting the display modes and for driving the LED rings a resistor (1000 Ohm) and a capacitor (1000 microFarad).

On top of its basic form, the CountClock Hours & Minutes can be extended with additional functions by applying these hardware components:

  1. Keeping the exact time using a DSC module (this is a very useful function for a clock but, given the basic timekeeping functionality of the controller, not indispensable;
  2. A light sensor allowing to automatically adjust the CountClock brightness to the surrounding light: minimum during the night and maximum when exposed to strong light;
  3. A battery for cordless operation;
  4. A bell to sound the hour, or to use as an alarm feature.The bell is powered using a solenoid, which requires its own power source.

Many instructions are available on how to solder the electronic components. Soon some links will be posted here for finding more information.

The next Step elaborates on the CountClock Software.

Step 11: CountClock Software

The software, which is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution and will soon be available for download here, adds endless functionality to the CountClock. Besides programming the colors, different display modes, as introduced above. More info will follow here soon...

Step 12: Making of CountClock Hours and Minutes

This step shows pictures of the how the CountClock Hours & Minutes can be made. The recipe: gather all ingredients as introduced in this Instructable and put everything together. Note: for the electronics additional references will be provided.

Special attention is drawn to the button on the backside of the CountClock, see the next step.

Step 13: CountClock Button

The wooden design of the CountClock deserves a wooden finish in the form of a matching button. The electrical switch is secured on the inside face of the rear CountClock panel, and a rounded wooden pen allows to press the button, through the case. The transparent tubing fits tightly on the pen (it may be glued as well) which is crucial for reasons of safety (to avoid choking of small parts, an important issue when designing for kids). Note that the pictures use CountClock Hours Only as an example, but the switch is identical for the CountClock Hours & Minutes version.

The next step shows which additional components might be added to the CountClock.

Step 14: Optional Elements for the CountClocks

The CountClock may be decorated with a variety of additional components, of which the pictures show the conceptual design.

  1. A bell to sound the hour and the half hour, or perhaps also the quarters, or even to use as an alarm feature. The bell is sounded using a solenoid, which requires its own power source;
  2. A light sensor allowing to automatically adjust the CountClock brightness to the surrounding light: minimum during the night and maximum when exposed to strong light. In the pictures, the light sensor is hidden under the bell;
  3. A battery for cordless operation;
  4. Keeping the exact time using a DSC module (this is a very useful function for a clock but, given the basic timekeeping functionality of the controller not indispensable).


Editorial note: thanks for having read through this Instructable! Did you know that there is a CountClock Meta Instructable that introduces the '"Hours Only" variant of the CountClock, and also the prototypes that were made?


To conclude: if you like the CountClock project you can contribute to its success, by mentioning it on social media:

Many thanks in advance!

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