Illuminations: Getting into the Electoral College

Getting into the Electoral College

Every 4 years, citizens of the United States elect the person they believe should be our nation's new leader. This unit explores the mathematics of the electoral college, the system used in this country to determine the winner in a presidential election. The lessons include activities in percentages, ratios, and area, with a focus throughout on building problem-solving and reasoning skills. They are designed to be used individually to fit within your curriculum at the time of an election. However, time permitting, they can be used as a unit to give students a strong understanding of how small variations can mean one person becomes president and another does not. Additionally, the lesson extensions include many ideas for interdisciplinary activities and some possible school-wide activities.

Individual Lessons

Lesson 1 - Why Is California So Important?

In this lesson, students learn about the mechanics of the electoral college and use the State Data Map applet to gather data on the population and electoral votes for each state. Students calculate the percentage of the Electoral College vote allocated to each state, and use mathematics to reflect on the differences. Several questions are provided to strengthen understanding of measures of central tendency and fluency with decimals and percents.

Lesson 2 - How Could That Happen?

This problem-solving lesson challenges students to generate election results using number sense and other mathematical skills. Students are also given the opportunity to explore the mathematical questions in a politically challenging context. Calculations are made using an online tool and the data gathered on the Lesson 1 activity sheet, Why California?, and additional resources are introduced to extend the primary activity.

Lesson 3 - A Swath of Red

A political map of the United States after the 2000 election is largely red, representing the Republican candidate, George W. Bush. However, the presidential race was nearly tied. Using a grid overlay, students estimate the area of the country that voted for the Republican candidate and the area that voted for the Democratic candidate. Students then compare the areas to the electoral and popular vote election results. Ratios of electoral votes to area are used to make generalizations about the population distribution of the United States.

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