Every election year, political conversations become a staple at home as well as in the classroom. At Lowell, in 5th grade, teachers helped students gain greater understanding of the election by adding a lesson called “What’s the deal with elections?” Teacher Justin Haas says being responsive to current events and his students’ interests “is what makes [curriculum] most exciting and relevant for students.”
Fifth graders began by learning about the 12th amendment, which details the rules and regulations of presidential elections. They explored questions like who gets to vote and how votes get counted. Students learned the difference between voting in a “democracy,” where each person’s vote counts, and in a “republic,” where the peoples’ chosen representatives vote. Looking at a map of the United States, they also learned about how the electoral college system is structured, seeing that the state’s electoral numbers correspond to population size rather than land mass noting big electoral college states like California, Arizona, and New Mexico.
Carrying the conversation further, students compared the electoral college outcome of the past five elections. They observed how some states change colors and as a result are referred to as “toss-up” states during elections. Students also noticed when almost the entire country was colored red, a third color appeared on the map indicating a third party, and that some states were typically blue. Based on their observations, 5th graders became electoral analysts and mapped predictions about who would win the 2020 election.
“The biggest impact I think this conversation had for students was truly thinking about the meaning of ‘democracy,’” says April Greene, 5th grade teacher. Following this lesson, students discussed the Declaration of Independence and reflected on values such as freedom, democracy, and equality. They applied their new understandings and explored how those values relate today.
Lowell School is a private PK-8th grade school located in NW Washington, DC. At Lowell students gain the knowledge, skills, and social-emotional literacy to be the bold leaders and creative problem solvers our world needs.