Sunday, October 28, 2012

Electoral College Simulation

Before I get started, I want to say that I can't take credit for the entire lesson.  I got the initial idea here, and then I modified the lesson to fit the needs of the eleventh graders I'm interning with.

To start out, I went over the Electoral College process with the students.  It was shocking that while a lot of them were close to voting age, they had no idea how our president is elected.  I went over the very basics of the process.  For the most part, Electoral Colleges are distributed by population.  Each state gets one Electoral College per representative in Congress.  Two of these automatically come from senators, and the rest are determined by how many members there are in the House of Representatives, which is determined by the state's population.  The number of votes range from three (the least amount a state can have) to fifty-five.  A few states hold the majority of the votes.  After reviewing the process, a lot of students exclaimed that it wasn't fair at all, and I told them to keep that in mind throughout the lesson.

So, after reviewing this, I distributed slips of paper. On each slip of paper was a state and how many votes that state has.  You can download that file here.  I included how many votes each state has on the paper so students didn't have to try and see the numbers on the board and crowd the board.  You may have give students more than one slip of paper, depending on how big your class is.  I told the students to choose what they liked better, either Coke or Pepsi.

If students didn't like Coke or Pepsi, I didn't accept write-in votes, they had to choose.  I collected the votes and told them that they would find out the winner at the end of the period.

After the votes were collected, students broke up into groups of four.  They were told they have been selected to sit on a special council to rework the Electoral College process.  They had complete freedom to do whatever they wanted to the system, with two stipulations.  First, they had to explain why they made the changes they would, and second, they had to provide a step-by-step guide to their new system.  The exact words I used were: "You should be able to hand me this, and I should be able to run a national election without any problems."  Students were then sent on their way to work in their groups.

While students worked, I used this website to enter the votes. All you do is click on the state to change its color.  What's perfect about using Coke and Pepsi is they are red and blue, same colors as Democrats and Republicans, so they worked into the map perfectly.

I kept the results of the election a secret until the end of class.  Students definitely came up with some interesting ideas.  A lot of students said that they would switch the election to overall popular vote.  One group said that they would keep a certain amount of Electoral College votes per state, based on population, but each state's votes would be determined by flipping a coin.  A lot of groups said that each state would get the same amount of votes regardless of population.  A lot of groups also explained that they would open up new methods of voting, such as online or via text message, which could very well be the method of election of the future.

Finally, we have the results.

First period results

Above are the results from first period.  Pepsi won by a landslide.  I love the results from this class.  Even though Pepsi won by a significant amount, it was easy to change that.  By clicking on California, Texas, Florida and New York, Coke won the election.  It was a very close election, but it showed that a few states held the majority of the power.

Second period results

That is not to say that I didn't like second period's results (once again, a landslide victory for Pepsi), but first period allowed me to illustrate my point just a little bit better (not that that was second period's fault).

Overall, the students appeared to like the lesson, and hopefully they have a better understanding for how we elect a president.  Like I said before, I cannot take all the credit for the lesson, a link to the original is above, but I did make some modifications to it to make it more appropriate for an eleventh grade class.  By going to the original, you can see how it works for elementary school children.