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Teaching Tips 221

Leap Year!


Leap Year!
It only comes once every four years so it's worth a lesson based around it. It's Leap Year & the extra day is on 29th of February.

If you'd like to work out if a year is a leap year or not, or find leap years between certain dates, click here for a quick calculation.

Here are a few ideas for a lesson:

1. Introduce the theme of 'Leap Years' - on the board - pairwork >> feedback - anyone have a birthday on 29th Feb? Know anyone? What do they do about birthdays/ would you do?
If Ben was born in 1960, but has only had 10 birthdays on his birth day, how could he be 44 in the year 2004?

2. Elicit how we work out if a year is a leap year or not. Put the following headings on the board & students discuss what the article might say about them.
Which years are leap years?
Why are leap years needed?

Is there a perfect calendar?

3. Students either read quickly for the general idea - to see if their ideas come up in the article, or read in detail to discover the answers to the questions - give appropriate time limits for each approach. As it is a dense text, maybe the latter might be more appropriate. Or you could give a series of years & the students have to work out which are leap years from the information about the calculations in the text. Students compare ideas, help each other out >> feedback.

What is a leap year?
A leap year is a year with one extra day inserted into February, the leap year is 366 days with 29 days in February as opposed to the normal 28 days. (There are a few past exceptions to this)

Which years are leap years?
In the Gregorian calendar, which is the calendar used by most modern countries, the following rules decides which years are leap years:
Every year divisible by 4 is a leap year.
But every year divisible by 100 is NOT a leap year
Unless the year is also divisible by 400, then it is still a leap year.
This means that year 1800, 1900, 2100, 2200, 2300 and 2500 are NOT leap years, while year 2000 and 2400 are leap years.
This actually means year 2000 is kind of special, as it is the first time the third rule is used in many parts of the world.

In the old Julian Calendar, there was only one rule: Every year divisible by 4 is a leap year. This calendar was used before the Gregorian calendar was adopted.

Why are leap years needed?

Short answer:
Leap years are needed so that the calendar is in alignment with the earth's motion around the sun.

Long answer:
The mean time between two successive vernal equinoxes is called a tropical year, and it is about 365.2422 days long. This means that it takes 365.2422 days for the earth to make one revolution around the sun (the time is takes to orbit the sun).

Using a calendar with 365 days would result in an error of 0.2422 days or almost 6 hours per year. After 100 years, this calendar would be more than 24 days ahead of the seasons (tropical year), which is not a desirable situation. It is desirable to align the calendar with the seasons, and make the difference as small as possible.

By adding leap years approximately every 4th year, this difference between the calendar and the seasons can be reduced significantly, and the calendar will follow the seasons much more closely than without leap years.

(One day is here used in the sense of "mean solar day", which is the mean time between two transits of the sun across the meridian of the observer.)

Is there a perfect calendar?
None of the calendars used today are perfect, they go wrong by seconds, minutes, hours or days every year. To make a calendar even better, new leap year rules have to be introduced, complicating the calculation of the calendar even more. The currently used Gregorian calendar may need some modification a few thousand years ahead. A tropical year is approximately 365.242199 days, but it varies from year to year, because of influence by the other planets.

Name of calendar
Average year
error introduced
Gregorian calendar
AD 1582
365.2425 days
27 secs (1 day every 3236 years)
Julian calendar
45 BC
365.25 days
11 mins (1 day every 128 years)
365-day calendar
365 days
6 hours (1 day every 4 years)
Lunar calendar
12-13 moon-months

A calendar like the Julian Calendar (with every 4th year as a leap year) was first introduced by king Ptolemy III, Egypt in 238 BC.
In ancient times, it was very usual to have lunar (moon) calendars, with 12 and/or 13 months every year. To align the calendar with the seasons the 13th month was inserted as a "leap month" every 2-3 years.

Note: Many other calendars have been and are still used throughout the world.

(With permission from )

4. Elicit any leap year traditions the students may know about. The following reading could be cut up into paragraphs, handed out & the students put it into a logical order >> feedback discussing why the order chosen. Then on to further comprehension if needed - for lower levels. Then on to a discussion of the content - any similarities in students' countries.

Leap Year!

Leap Year was the traditional time that women could propose marriage. In many of today's cultures, it is ok for a woman to propose marriage to a man. Society doesn't look down on such women. However, that hasn't always been the case. When the rules of courtship were stricter, women were only allowed to pop the question on one day every four years. That day was February 29th.

It is believed this tradition was started in 5th century Ireland when St. Bridget complained to St. Patrick about women having to wait for so long for a man to propose. So, according to legend, St. Patrick said the yearning females could propose on this one day in February during the Leap Year.

According to English law, February 29th was ignored and had no legal status. Folks assumed that traditions would also have no status on that day. It was also reasoned that since the leap year day existed to fix a problem in the calendar, it could also be used to fix an old and unjust custom that only let men propose marriage.

The first documentation of this practice dates back to 1288, when Scotland passed a law that allowed women to propose marriage to the man of their choice in that year. They also made it law that any man who declined a proposal in a Leap Year must pay a fine. The fine could range from a kiss to payment for a silk dress or a pair of gloves.

In the United States, some people have referred to this date as Sadie Hawkins Day, with women being given the right to run after unmarried men to propose. Sadie Hawkins was a female character in the Al Capp cartoon strip "Li'l Abner." Many communities celebrate Sadie Hawkins Day in November.

There is a Greek superstition that claims couples have bad luck if they marry during a leap year. Apparently one in five engaged couples in Greece will avoid planning their wedding during a leap year.

(With permission from )

5. A follow up might be a roleplay with a Greek couple - see the roles below:
a. you would like to get married with b. but it is leap year & you are quite superstitious & feel it would be bad luck to get married this year.
b. you thought you were going to get married with a. this year but now s/he has decided to wait until next year, saying it is bad luck to get married in a leap year. You think it is rubbish & an excuse as you feel a. might be having second thoughts. Have it out with him/her!

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