By Admin / February 28, 2020

The science behind leap year, plus activities to get your classroom hopping

What if I told you that you have an extra day and can do whatever you want with it? Yes – a full day to yourself or to caught up or just to get that one thing done that you keep putting off. Well, you’re in luck! This year, 2020, we get one full day added to the calendar – February 29, specifically. And, even better, it’s on a Saturday! Every four years we get one year, called a leap year, that has 366 days on the calendar. Let’s seize the moment on this special day!

Science of the Extra Day

The big question is do we really need this extra day? And the answer is YES – there’s even science to back it up. One year can be defined as 12 months, 4 seasons, or just another year older – but it is also the time it takes for Earth to orbit the Sun. This orbit is known as a solar calendar year.

We have relied on our watches and clocks and phones to know the time, date, and even the changing season, but before this modern technology, people used the Sun’s orbit to know when the year began and ended. Farmers especially used the solar calendar to predict the weather changes to match their farming habits – and trust me, being married to a farmer, this is very important.

However, the problem is that a solar year is approximately 365.2422 days, which means over time (four years to be exact), the Earth’s orbit will get out of sync with the calendar. To put our calendars back in line with the solar year, Julius Caesar, a Roman dictator, added one extra day to February every four years in 45 BC – eventually leading to the birth of the Gregorian calendar in 1582. American colonies didn’t fully adopt the Gregorian calendar until 1752, but thankfully they did, or soon enough we might be celebrating Christmas in July.

Take the Leap in Your Classroom

Leap year only comes once every four years. Use this quadrennial moment to celebrate and learn about leap year in your classroom. Get exploring with your students! Why is this year different than other years? What exactly is leap year? How can we celebrate? There are so many topics to consider with leap year – the history, the science, the math – get started soon before it’s over!

Try out some of these hopping fun activities for a memorable leap year with your kiddos!

  • Create a time capsule for your students! Have students write a letter to themselves for the future or let them fill out a “Get To Know Me worksheet to see how much they change in the next four years. The year 2024 won’t come soon enough!
  • Hop, skip, jump, and leap with some outdoor activities. Don’t miss the perfect chance to play classic games such as hopscotch, leapfrog, or the potato sack race! If it’s still too cold outside, stay inside with this lily pad math craft! Make your own lily pads with a variety of numbers, call out a math problem, and have students hop to the correct answer!  
  • From solar calendar to solar power! Check out this Robotikits Happy Hopping Frog Kit that explores alternative energy principles.
  • Have our straw rocket launcher? Hop into some creativity and measurement concepts. Have students create their own frog-inspired designs for their fins (get inspiration from our Rad Rockets) and then measure the frogs’ hops (i.e., the launch distance).
  • What better time than during leap year to teach students how to tell time? Get some hands-on learning with these time-telling activities
  • For Grades 5-8, try Leap Day Math. This activity gives students math questions using information about the Earth’s orbit around the Sun to better understand why we have leap year. Students will complete problems such as calculating the difference between the calendar year and the solar year and determining which years are leap years. 

See you in the next four years, February 29! And to those who finally get a day to celebrate their birthday, “Hoppy” Birthday!



TOPICS: IN THE CLASSROOM, Teacher Resources, STEM, Resources, STEM Units, Activities, Hands-on Learning, Math


Written by Admin

A few of Pitsco’s cool staffers contributed their knowledge and time to this post. We’re proud to have a great group of developers, writers, managers, builders, and creatives who can help bring the Pitsco Blog to life.