Calender Madness

It is February, the runt of the monthly litter with only 28 days. This year, 2018, is not a leap year and so February is at least 2 days shorter than the other months. Most people know that the time it takes the earth to orbit the sun is actually 365.25 days and that extra 0.25 days is why we tack on a day every 4 years, making leap years. But what most people don’t know (which is to say, I didn’t know until I started researching this) is that the year is actually 365.242375 days, meaning just adding a day every 4 years is not enough. Confusing, I know, but everything is explained succinctly by this video and this video.

The cool thing about leap years, for me, is that it is an intersection of history, math, physics, and linguistics, making it a great cross-curricular topic for teachers to work with. My interest in this topic began when I realized that the Sept, Oct, Nov, and Dec of our last four months have Latin roots for 7, 8, 9, and 10. But they are the 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th month of the year. Weird. Then I found out the Romans began their year in March, the month named after the god of war, and the month they marched of to war. See where this is going?

The names of the months and days have interesting linguistic legacies. The calculation of the year and the addition or subtraction of days is a mathematical wonder. The spin of the earth and its orbit around the sun are fundamental to physics. And our interaction with all of these topics throughout the ages is a historical drama that continues to play out today.

Many educators have already considered the classroom possibilities of leap years. Lesson ideas can be found here, here, here, and here, among other places. You will probably have the most success if you tailor the class to your individual interests. Please let me know if you have had any success with leap year themed lessons.



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