Electing the National Doughnut

By Mark Palacio

This article has been cross posted. Go to Lynn and Mark’s full blog site.

We’ve given over most or all of our math time this week to electing the National Doughnut — something students have been eagerly anticipating for several weeks. This year, we are doing it in two stages: first for our building only, using several methods; then for the whole school, using the popular vote and a classroom-based electoral college.

We got started by meeting in blended building half groups to talk about voting — What is it all about? What kinds of voting have our students experienced? After some discussion, we identified some key vocabulary: options, electoral college, popular vote, majority, plurality, rough count, and more. Students were able to cite many instances in which the majority determined a decision. We recalled ranked choice-making in the case of selecting individual minicourses. We also remembered times in which students were asked to vote for all the ones among several choices that they liked without ranking them.

Then we introduced a handout that explained the six different voting methods we are planning to use: electing-the-doughnut_-2016. Students puzzled over it for a bit, as some of the methods are fairly convoluted. Then we gave out whiteboards and asked students to try to design a ballot for one kind of voting. (This was also the math homework for Monday night.) It was not easy!

A very imaginative group discussion the next day led to a 1-page solution to the ballot problem. Students were generally in favor of grids for the more complicated kinds of voting, and this is what we finally worked out: final ballot.

We had 8 hilarious presentations from the campaign committees. We agreed that they would only talk about what was good about their own candidate — nothing negative could be said about their opponents. Songs, rhymes, celebrity endorsements, parodies of the recent Presidential race, and delicious photos graced their posters. Several students observed that the campaign speeches had led them to change their preferences.

Students and their teachers filled in each section and then cut it into separate parts to put into the voting bags. Tabulating the votes was another organizational challenge, but they did it. Although we’ve had more varied outcomes in previous election years, this time the top three doughnuts were the same ones no matter how we counted them, with French apple the clear winner and coconut custard a very strong second. Only the cumulative vote method let raised sugared take second place and put coconut custard in third.

Now we are moving on to the all-school election. Those top three doughnuts will be presented (briefly) to each classroom, specialist, and office staff. We’ve created an electoral college after another convoluted and creative discussion with all of the 5th and 6th graders. They had wonderful ideas and questions that revealed how much they had learned through the many ways and days we explored the process for electing the President. Should we set up one or more classrooms with the ability to split their electoral votes, like Maine and Nebraska? What would happen with the electoral votes if a classroom’s result were a tie? What would happen in real life if a state’s popular vote was a tie? We had to look that one up, and we found that each state had its own process for resolving that. It again underscored the fact that we are, in a Constitutional sense, a union of states and not one big blended nation.

This is always a broad educational experience — a blend of playful satire of the real process, a mathematical exploration of worldwide voting methods, and a chance to review and ask questions about the way we do elect our President. This year, with the strong feelings, incivility, and high tension around the 2016 race, it gave our children a chance to step away from what they were seeing on the news and engage with an election that was going to be pleasing no matter who won.

Students will take their flyers and ballots around to classrooms tomorrow. Still unresolved is whether the popular vote or the electoral vote will determine the winner. We’re publishing this post now (Monday), but we’ll update it tomorrow with Tuesday’s results . . . Check back.

Tuesday — The election is over, and it was an upset!

Amid a great deal of excitement, we tabulated the school-wide votes class by class. A spreadsheet on our big screen let us keep track of the popular and electoral votes as they were reported. Two of the electoral districts ended in a tie, and — after a recount — a coin toss decided who got the electors. We talked about other possibilities that might have been better if we had the time or had agreed to split electors, but the coin toss was quickest. In the end, both the popular vote and electoral vote were close for the top two, but it was the raised sugared doughnut that triumphed. One disgruntled student was heard to mutter facetiously, “Not MY doughnut!” Here is the final distribution of the votes: election-outcome.

On Monday, we will happily devour the winner.

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