Grade level K–5
Students will learn about the Electoral College while understanding the numerical basis for election results and practicing various computations.
National curriculum standard(s)
Principles and Standards for School Mathematics
• Data Analysis and Probability Standard: Instructional programs from prekindergarten through grade 12 should enable all students to formulate questions that can be addressed with data and collect, organize, and display relevant data to answer them.
o [Grade 3–5]: All students should design investigations to address a question and consider how data-collection methods affect the nature of the data set.
• Number and Operations Standard: Instructional programs from prekindergarten through grade 12 should enable all students to compute fluently and make reasonable estimates.
o [Grade 3–5]: All students should develop and use strategies to estimate the results of whole-number computations and to judge the reasonableness of such results
• Connections Standard [Grade 3–5]: instructional programs from prekindergarten through grade 12 should enable all students to recognize and apply mathematics in contexts outside of mathematics.
Developed by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics
Preparation: 40 minutes
In-class: 2 hours, two different days; less, if some is done as homework.
CultureGrams States Edition
1. Begin by handing out a printout of the PDF outline map of the U.S. to each student, along with coloring utensils. Give the students a list of which states voted for George W. Bush (color red) in the 2004 presidential election and which states voted for John Kerry (color blue) and have them color in the map accordingly.
2. When the students are done, tell them that the country was split fairly evenly in this election, with 51% of the nation voting for Bush and 48% voting for Kerry. Yet, from looking at the amount of red on the election map, they might think that far more people voted for Bush. Talk about how the Electoral College works, explaining that each state gets a number of electoral votes based on its total number of senators and representatives, the latter of which is based on population.
3. Using this formula (senators + representatives = electoral votes), have the students use the information in the Government section of the CultureGrams States Edition to fill in their map with the numbers of electoral votes each state has. Compare the sum of the blue states’ electoral votes and those of the red states. Are they closer than the map makes them appear?
4. Explain to students that, typically, it is thought that states that are home to large urban populations (and are therefore more densely populated) tend to be democrat, while those home to rural populations (and therefore more sparsely populated) tend to be republican. Have students test this assumption using the Create-Your-Own-Table function in the States Edition. Have students create tables that display the population densities (population per sq. mi.) for both red and blue states. Using this data, have them create and compare averages for each group. What do their findings prove?
Questions for further discussion
1. Why might more densely populated states vote democratic, while more sparsely populated ones vote republican?
2. The Electoral College has come under fire as being out of date and unfair. Do the students agree? Why or why not?
Provide electoral maps for several past presidential elections. As they compare the maps, they should note which states should be classified as “swing states”; that is, which states alternate between voting for republican and democratic candidates. Then, have the students make a chart that visually displays red, blue, and swing states. The students bring their charts to class and compare them. If there are any differences, allow students to defend their classifications.