How Math Statistics Affect Politics: Teaching in Real Time

Our middle school kids are voting on a year end field trip.  For my Grade 8’s it’s their last field trip in middle school ever, so this is important to them.  Their choices?  Go to Calaway Park or go to a wave pool…….We held a vote.  These were the results:

GRADE Calaway % of class %of middle school Wave Pool % of class % of middle school
5 1/27 (27) 3% 1% 26/27 (27) 97% 26%
6 19/26 (31) 73% 19% 7/26 (31) 27% 7%
7 8/20 (21) 40% 8% 5/20 (21) 25% 5%
8 14/25 (27) 56% 14% 10/25 (27) 40% 10%

I should mention that for the percentages I used the kids who were present and eligible to vote.  The brackets are for the number of students in the class usually.  I’ll explain later. 

Lesson #1:  Who wins?

The answer…..both!  How is that possible?  Well if you look at it on a class by class basis, popular vote in each individual class goes to Calaway Park with the exception of the Grade 5’s.  But as a whole……44/98 want Calaway Park BUT 48/98 want the wave pool…..and it’s worth pointing out that there were 8 middle schoolers who did not vote for either side.

Lesson #2:  Now what?

The arguments ensued in my classroom for nearly fifteen minutes.

“It’s our last field trip, we should have the final say!”  Ok….but your class didn’t have a STRONG majority and 1 person showed up after the voting was over and 1 person indicated they would change their vote so…..?

“We have the biggest class!  We should have more say!”  No you don’t.  You had 25 voters, and technically the Grade 6’s are the biggest class by number so…..?

“The classes want to go to Calaway!”  According to a class by class basis, yes.

“But the MIDDLE SCHOOL wants to go to the wave pool!”  As a whole, yes.

“The Grade 5’s messed everything up because they tipped the scales.  There should be only one class vote.”  Hmm….interesting….

Lesson #3:  Voting and Math

I took this time to illustrate how proportional representation works in Canada.  Handy, since we just had an election.  We had a great discussion on what “vote splitting” means, how popularity polls changed through the election, and what the role of campaigning is.  Should the student who showed up late get a vote?  Sorry!  If the polls are closed then……no.  What if you change your mind after you vote?  Sorry!  You can’t go back to the polling station and change your ballot.

Should we use this as an “opinion poll”, take the day to campaign (talking heavily about no bullying, threats, or bribes), and then have the official vote at the end of the day?  This was the final decision, yes we would do that.

Lesson #4:  So which voting system do we use?  Rules have to be set first!

Option One:  Every Individual Counts

We discussed that if everyone’s opinion counts then it’s a one vote, one time and majority rules.  No matter how close.  We talked abut the importance of the apathetic voter.  Those who didn’t vote in the initial poll could have decided the outcome……And campaigning needs to be directed towards the Grade 5’s who were so heavily skewed on one side.

Option Two:  Every Class is a Riding

The majority of the class represents the “class vote”, no matter how small the margin.  If this option is chosen, campaigning needs to be directed towards the two classes that could “swing” either way depending on a few votes.  Namely the Grade 8’s and the Grade 7’s where a couple of votes make all the difference.

Option Three:  Proportional Representation

In this case, you have to take into account the class totals, not just the kids who are here.  In the Canadian elections seats are decided based on population, not on voter turnout.  This would mean the Grade 6’s have the most students (31 in class) so they would get more seats than the Grade 7’s (21 in class).


The vote would be held with each class being represented as a riding…..

Let the campaign and the final vote begin……

A math class that talked about statistics as well as a social class that talked about voting.  Can’t ask for a better start to a Wednesday morning…..


About Cherra-Lynne Olthof

I've been a middle school teacher for my entire career (which began in 2001). Like my students, I too am a life long learner. My goals include helping my students to achieve their goals, support them in their learning, and to encourage them to think "beyond the grade".
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One Response to How Math Statistics Affect Politics: Teaching in Real Time

  1. cherraolthof says:

    Small error. It was 42/98 kids for Calaway Park as a final total. Not 44/98.

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