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Just a Minute!

clock running cartoon

Adapted from the Children’s Museum of Houston. Click to see original activity.


In this short, fun activity, pairs of students in grades 1 – 8 learn about industrial engineering and measurement by estimating how many times a partner can complete a task in one minute and comparing those estimates to actual performance. They then can discuss methods to improve their performance and run the trial again.

Grade level: 1 -8

Time: 15 to 30 minutes

Learning objectives

After completing this activity, students should be able to:

  • Understand that time is measured in seconds, minutes, and hours
  • Collect data to frame and solve problems
  • Connect and measure time needed to complete a task
  • Understand that work can be broken down into component tasks
  • Develop ways to improve a process
  • Understand the role of industrial engineers in making work easier, safer, or more efficient.


Common Core State Mathematics Standards

Measurement and Data.

  • Tell and write time using analog and digital clocks [Grade 1] to the nearest five minutes, using a.m. and p.m. [Grade 2]
  • Solve problems using measurement and estimation [Grade 3]
  • Represent and interpret data [Grades 4 & 5]

International Technology and Engineering Educators Association

  • Power is the rate at which work is done. [Grades 6-8]

National Science Education Standards

  • Science as inquiry – systems, order, and organization [Grades 6 -8]

Next Generation Science Standards

  • Science and Engineering Practices 3: Planning and carrying out investigations
  • Science and Engineering Practices 4: Analyzing and interpreting data.
  • Science and Engineering Practices 6: Constructing explanations and designing solutions.

Background Information/Engineering Connection

Don’t think much can happen in a minute? Think again. Every 60 seconds, 21,000 pizzas are baked, 2,271 working satellites orbit Earth, 45 million gallons of water go over Niagara Falls, and you probably blink and breathe 15 times. And that’s just the beginning.

Time management – figuring out how long you will need to complete a particular homework assignment or chore — is an important skill for children to acquire. It’s also a key element in the work of industrial engineers, who organize the people, materials, and equipment involved in production, and improve systems by breaking big jobs into smaller chunks and studying how to make tasks easier.

Children need multiple experiences thinking about chunks of time such as one second, one minute, five minutes, thirty minutes and one hour as they become more familiar with units of measurement. Learning to estimate is an important step in developing an understanding of the different components of measurement.


    • Stopwatch or clock with a second hand (one per group)
    • Just A Minute Task List sheet (one per student)
    • Pencil


1. Divide students into pairs and distribute materials.
2. One student will complete the tasks and one will serve as the timer and recorder. Then, they will switch roles.
3. The student completing the task should estimate how many times s/he thinks s/he will be able to complete the first task on the Just A Minute Task List (See page 2 or table, below.)
4. The recorder will write the estimate in the correct box on the list.
5. The timer tells the student completing the task to begin and times him or her for one minute. The student completing the task should keep track of how many times s/he completes the task.
6. The recorder writes the actual number in the correct box.
7. Encourage students to compare each one’s total to his or her estimate and discuss possible reasons for the differences between the estimate and actual numbers throughout the task. They also can brainstorm ideas for improving on their performance.
8. Students may pick another task from the list and switch roles.

TASK ESTIMATED number of times ACTUAL number of times
Write your first name
Do Jumping Jacks
Draw squares
Sit down and stand up
Your own task

Sample questions to ask

  • What can you do to improve your estimates?
  • Why do some activities feel like they’re longer than others do?
  • Why were some activities harder to estimate than others?

Activity scaling

  • Have older students discuss ways to improve performance and run another trial to see if they can complete more tasks.
  • Have students do bar charts or other visual mathematical representations showing the difference between estimated and actual performance.

Watch this pioneering time-motion study of bricklayers by Frank and Lillian Gilbreth:


Additional resources

A Woman Who Made Work Easier. An eGFI Teachers’ feature for Women’s History Month on industrial engineer Lillian Gilbreth, pioneer of time and motion studies with her husband, Frank, and matriarch of the family in the beloved children’s classic, Cheaper By The Dozen.

Meet Industrial Engineer Pamela McCauley Bush An entrepreneur and industrial engineer featured on the eGFI Students’ trailblazers blog. Also check out the eGFI Students’ Industrial/Manufacturing Engineering pages.

Bricklayers: A time-motion study. A sample of Frank and Lillian Gilbreth’s pioneering use of film in the 1920s and 30s to study workers’ motions and make improvements. ‘[YouTube 1:31]

Time and Motion. Professor Tim Strangleman talks on BBC1’s One Show about time and motion studies in the workplace, including the tensions between labor and management this 100-year-old management theory initially fueled.

The Easier Way Made in consultation with a University of Iowa industrial engineering professor, this 1946 General Motors black and white film uses a dining-room table demonstration of how time-motion studies can make tasks easier and faster. [YouTube 12:31. Demonstration starts at about 6 minutes.]

What is Industrial Engineering? Ohio State industrial engineering students explain what industrial engineers do and why they chose this major. [YouTube 9:32]


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