The upcoming elections present us with so many opportunities to discuss math topics with our children. For younger children we can use the elections to discuss what a majority means mathematically. If there are five people in our family how can we use majority rules to choose between two movies? What would a majority look like if 100 people were choosing between two movies? How would the concept of numerical majority change if we were choosing from among three movies/candidates rather than two? As many of you know in the Lower School we will be voting on election day to determine how to celebrate spirit day. This will give children a first hand experience with voting and “majority rules.”
For older children, discussing how the electoral college works and analyzing the system compared to how a popular vote might work is an intriguing topic. Encouraging kids to use mathematical analysis to inform an opinion gives a great context to the math we study at school. Several Upper School classes have been learning about the electoral college and tracking the standings of each candidate as they strive for the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency. In the Middle Division, students will conduct their own electoral vote in an effort to predict the outcome of the election. In several classrooms students have considered: What combinations of states could make up the 270+ electoral votes? What is the fewest number of states a candidate could win and capture the presidency?
Polls and predictions provide still another topic for conversation with our children. What do poll numbers mean? What is the margin of error that is sometimes reported and sometimes not? If according to a poll, one candidate is in the lead but it is within the margin of error, how reliable is that lead?
In addition to the rich mathematical connections to the democratic process, several topics in the political conversation also provide great fodder for developing mathematical understanding. Large numbers like five trillion seldom occur in our lives and as a result, have little meaning for us. Helping our kids get their heads around the magnitude of $1 trillion is a challenge. According to my calculations, if one spent $1 every second it would take over 31,709 years to spend $1,000,000,000,000.00. Even this example of the size of 1 trillion is difficult to get your head around. How might we think of $1 trillion in a way that captures how big it is?
Highlighting the places in our world where numbers matter, have meaning, and can influence the lives of people, helps our children to feel the power of numbers. I encourage you to find ways to help your child connect to the mathematics that is part of our lives. The election season provides great fodder for doing so!
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