Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Project Idea: Math, Social Studies, and 'MURRICA!

I've had a half-baked idea for a project tossing around in my head for the past few weeks that I've been meaning to share. It's nowhere near perfect or ready to go, but I think it has some really cool potential. So, here we go:

It's an idea for a math and social studies project centered around the 2012 election.

(Math and social studies! I know, right?)

The idea is simple: Students work to answer the driving question, "What are the keys to winning the 2012 presidential election?"

Anyone who has been paying attention to the news (or who haven't been living under a rock at any point since 2008) probably have an idea of what the hot-button issues are, or which swing states will be most crucial to securing the presidency. For the math end of this project, however, numbers will tell the story.

As part of the process to answer the driving question, students will examine various sources of polling data. Gallup, for instance, has a daily tracking poll and plenty of polling data broken down by demographics. RealClearPolitics gathers and averages polling data from battleground states. Various electoral maps, such as this one on CNN's website, are available as well. Rasmussen Reports has polling data showing what issues are most important to Americans today. In short, lots of data to examine and interpret.

Students will gather and examine polling data to determine a few key points, including which states the candidates should focus most of their resources on and which issues the candidates should focus on. Their data analysis will be used to justify why they identified particular states and issues as being the most important to focus on.

For the final product in the math portion of this project, students will create a multimedia presentation to deliver their findings and make recommendations to both the campaigns of President Obama and Governor Romney as to how they should focus their campaigns in the final weeks leading up to the election. These presentations are to be posted to our class blog (which I have yet to set up -- I'd better get going on that) and will also be forwarded to both campaigns. (Hopefully, they'll even take time to look at them!)

I've been talking with the social studies teacher on my grade-level team about this project. It sounds like he and his English co-facilitator are planning to run a debate project at the start of the year that this could actually fit into. I think having the students use data to identify what issues are most important to Americans would then lead them to investigate why those issues are important, which would lend itself well to research for a debate. The math can inform their approach to debating various issues.

So that's my half-baked project idea to this point. There's certainly much more that needs to be thought about as I develop this into something workable.

For instance, I talked about students "using data analysis," but haven't gotten very far on how students will actually learn what it is and how to apply the skill. I think I could especially use some help there.

Also, I'm wondering if there's a place for linear modeling in here with the polling data (particularly since the first unit of the year is supposed to be linear equations/inequalities).

Other ideas I've had to far include: utilizing social media to talk directly to people in battleground states and survey them on what issues are important to them; convincing someone from Gallup or another polling agency to Skype with the class and talk about how they conduct their polls; convincing someone from either the Obama or Romney campaigns to Skype with the class about how they use polling data or other statistics to drive decisions about how they conduct their campaigns.

(Also, it would be really cool to come up with a way to make this work with #MYParty12.)

Anyway, that's it. As I said, I think there's lots of potential here, but I can definitely use as much help as I can get. If even one or two of you out there have thoughts or "I wonders" on this, please share! Otherwise, thanks for reading!


  1. Jeff,

    I really like this project idea. I don't see it fitting perfectly with #MYparty12 because the focus of that project is on the students personal beliefs. But what if the math teacher was running this project at the same time the SS teacher was running the #MYparty12? It could be two different focuses on the same topic, the election, and it would definitely tie together how important math and statistics are to a political campaign.

    I especially like the idea of trying to get someone from Gallup to Skype in. I think it is important for students to see the thousands of people who have careers in politics but are not elected.

    I am going to be proposing a day when we get all students across the network to tweet at Obama and Romney to respond to our project and you could definitely be a part of that. Please stay in touch with where this project goes.

    Mike Kaechele

    1. Thanks Mike! I agree that it probably wouldn't fit perfectly with #MYParty12, at least not in any way that I can see right now. Still, with the election this year, I think it's important for students to have an authentic learning experience that shows how math can play a vital role in the political process.

      I'm hoping NTZB is active in #MYParty12 so we can join you with tweeting at both campaigns. I think that's an awesome idea and hopefully we can get some sort of response from either side!