Time Flies, sort of

Posted by Skip Johnson on June 26, 2012

Time fliesPutting time into perspective when talking about hundreds of thousands of years can be difficult, especially for younger learners. While preparing a short talk for the recent sixth grade promotion ceremonies at my school, I wanted to discuss how little time in the overall age of the earth have we as humans been influenced by the current technologically-rich environment, I discovered a great web resource—the Geological Timeline—from the British Geological Survey.  The timeline puts the advent of technologies of all types into an astonishingly short time frame!

The above document was created as a classroom lesson plan by the British Geological Survey. The plan is built upon the following precepts:

  1. Children are expected to digest the concept of thousands of years when studying the Egyptians, the Romans, or the Vikings.
  2. If children are challenged to comprehend thousands of years, how can they possibly conceive millions of years?
  3. To do this, geological time, needs to be scaled.
  4. The BGS believes models that scale the passing of 4600 million years by using a book 460 pages long or a 24 hour day were misleading in that they give the false appearance that once humans appeared we represented the ultimate life form.
  5. The BGS model considers that our solar system is in its mid-life. Instead of being a planet that is 4600 million years old, it can be thought of as a middle-aged person 46 years old.
  6. Their belief is that this scale related to human terms may be more understandable.

With the above notions in mind, the folks at BGS created a timeline of 46 birthday events of 46 equal time units depicting key geological events in the history of the earth. Many of the following events do not, of course, fall exactly on any specific anniversary. For convenience they are placed to the closest increment.

I chose only ten events from a significantly longer and more detailed timeline. The last entry is the most astonishing of all and makes my point regarding the relative youthfulness of technology.



Approximate Age of Earth in

Millions of Years

Approximate Time Before Present in Millions of Years


Key Events Along the Timeline




Earth formed from a dust cloud with the sun in the center. At 80% of present size, it crashed with another planetoid to form the moon.




Oxygen is a waste product produced by bacteria and would have been poisonous to early life forms.




First birds evolve…

8 Months Ago



Mass extinction of 65 to 70% of all species including all the…flying reptiles and dinosaurs…birds continue to thrive

4 Months Ago



Primates related to lemurs evolve…

2 Months Ago



Grasses such as wheat, barley, maize, and rice evolve…

5 Days Ago

Almost 4600


The Ice Age begins…temperatures varied to such high levels that animals such as  mammoths and elk evolve…

12 Hours Ago



Modern humans evolve in Africa.

1 Hour to Go


11,000 years ago

Humans learn to farm.

1 Minute to Go


250 Years Ago

The Industrial Revolution occurs.

Goodness!  With one minute to go before the earth turns 46 we have 3 iterations of the iPad, 4 of the iPhone, millions killed in wars, and global warming threatening our very existence.

Take time to study the entire timeline. This is a profound perspective on the current speed at which change occurs in our lives. I walk away from this phenomenal timeline with wonderment about what other things in our natural world are evolving that we pay little attention towards. As for our future, will we use technology to make our lives better or are we perhaps evolving ourselves right off the timeline?


Published by

Skip Johnson

Skip Johnson is principal of El Crystal Elementary School in San Bruno, California and a member of the TICAL Cadre.

2 thoughts on “Time Flies, sort of”

  1. Tim,
    Thanks for this great resource, Cannot wait to share when school gets back in session. And, thanks for reading and responding to my blog.

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