It’s Flag Day, when the U.S. celebrates its starry, stripy flag of red, white and blue. The thing is, ever since we became a country, we haven’t all celebrated the same flag. Remember, America started off with 13 colonies, which became the first 13 United States. So the flag in 1777 had 13 stars in a circle, one star for each state. Then in 1795 we added Vermont and Kentucky, so the stars had to move around to fit 15, this time in rows. Then in 1818 we added 5 more states, bringing the total to 20 — yet another star line-up. Since then the flag has changed more than 20 times. Our current 50-star flag was born in 1960, and is the longest-lasting flag we’ve had!
Wee ones: How many points does each little star have?
Little kids: Which had more stars, the flag for 15 states or the one for 13 states? Bonus: In our flag now, the long rows have 6 stars and the short rows have 5 stars. How much longer are the long rows?
Big kids: The 20-star flag had all rows of 5 stars. How many rows of stars must there have been? Bonus: The cool circles-of-stars flag here is from 1867, when Nebraska became the 37th state. The outside circle has 11 more stars than the inside circle. How many stars must each one have?
Wee ones: 5 points.
Little kids: The flag for 15 states. Bonus: 1 star more.
Big kids: 4 rows. Bonus: 24 stars and 13 stars (for the 13 colonies!). If the outside circle dropped its 11 extras, the total would be 37-11 = 26 split evenly between them, which would be two 13-star circles. Then add 11 back to that outer one to get the 24.
Laura Bilodeau Overdeck is founder and president of Bedtime Math Foundation. Her goal is to make math as playful for kids as it was for her when she was a child. Her mom had Laura baking before she could walk, and her dad had her using power tools at a very unsafe age, measuring lengths, widths and angles in the process. Armed with this early love of numbers, Laura went on to get a BA in astrophysics from Princeton University, and an MBA from the Wharton School of Business; she continues to star-gaze today. Laura’s other interests include her three lively children, chocolate, extreme vehicles, and Lego Mindstorms.