Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Electoral College... huh??!?

It may just be me (but I really doubt it), but I really have learned SO MUCH since I started teaching! There's just so much knowledge out there about all kinds of things! Politics have always scared me, especially within a school setting; you have to be so careful about what you say, and how you say it. So, I want to start off this post with a disclaimer:

I NEVER tell kids which political party I associate myself with, nor which candidate I choose to vote for. It's personal. I push patriotism and our responsibility as citizens to vote, but I also push a right to make your own decision. 

(Steps off soap box)

That being said, the world of elections is a very confusing place until you "get it." I have to admit, I didn't "get it" until probably 3 years ago when I was first introduced to some books that explain the electoral college clearly. My favorite of these is Grace for President.

Seriously... invest in this one. So today I started out 7th/8th grade history class by reading this book aloud.
Next, We looked at the map of how electoral votes are divided, and we looked at a map showing how the votes have been reapportioned since the 2010 census.

Then came the fun part. I gave each student a slip with a state on it.

 Actually, I gave them 2, since I have 22 students and there are 50 states, plus Washington, D.C. I let some of the other middle school teachers vote, too.

I gave them a few minutes to find their states on the map and shout or moan about how many/few electoral votes they have. Then I break out the soda.

Yes. Coke vs. Pepsi. Always a winner. I ask them to cast their votes.
And while they enjoy sipping on their choice of beverage, we pull up the interactive electoral map and begin to tally the votes. The site has a setting where you can choose for the map to be entirely neutral (it looks tan and only shows the states' abbreviations and # of electoral votes). Then, by clicking on the state you can choose whether you want it to be red or blue. In a typical election, red would signify Republican and Blue, Democrat, but in our election, we made red COKE and blue PEPSI. And here was our result:

[EDIT: I've had several people ask how to manipulate the map above. The website is www.270towin.com. Under the map is a drop-down box marked "Select a Starting View." Simply select "Blank Map." The whole map should turn tan. From here, you can click on each state. The first time you click, the state will turn red. If you'd like to turn it blue, click twice. Hope that's helpful!!]

Coke for the win! It was a landslide with 334 electoral votes to Pepsi's 194. And most importantly, I think the kids got it! We finished up with a short video clip from History.com.

I only had about an hour to do this with my middle schoolers, but when I've done it with my 5th graders in the past I've done much more....Red, White, and Blue snack, etc. I think it's important to help kids understand the importance of voting, and that our country is a Democratic Republic, not a direct democracy. (You know, "To the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God..."). I think kids commonly have the misconception that we're a direct democracy, electing a president based on popular vote. But we're not! We're a democratic republic. 

What do you do for election day in your class?