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Engaging future voters

History lesson tries to predict election

POSTED: November 8, 2012 12:32 a.m.
Jennifer Sami/

Students, from left, Garrett Hunt, Samantha Suss, Dina Aly and Spencer Haynsworth participate in an Electoral College lesson Monday at Lambert High School.

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A day before the U.S. presidential election, 170 juniors at Lambert High School got a lesson in the Electoral College.

As part of an Advanced Placement U.S. history 2012 electoral prognostication exercise, the students were divided at random into teams representing all 50 states.

They then had to dig for demographics, voter turnout and past election results to predict how their states would vote Tuesday. Donning outfits and carrying props, the students then presented their findings to an auditorium full of peers.

“It was really cool to learn more about it and it was really cool being able to apply what you learn in school to an actual real-life situation,” said Josh Wheeler, who was on the Alaska prediction team.

“It’s incorporating politics into young people’s lives. This kind of gets people into politics more so. Maybe the future generations can be more involved than the past generations.”

As a result of the prognostication exercise, the students determined that President Barack Obama likely would be re-elected with 312 electoral votes.

While time would tell on the actual outcome, the students found the lesson entertaining.

Wheeler noted that he got an easy state to forecast. For Florida, however, Bailey Toth and her team faced a much more challenging decision.

In the end, the group found that Florida would go to Obama’s Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

Toth cited Florida’s 23 percent Hispanic population as playing a major role in the conservative vote, despite the state’s large senior population, which typically votes Democrat.

“Mine was a swing state so we looked at everything,” she said. “We chose Romney partially because he was winning [Sunday] and recently, but also based on the demographics.

“It was cool to see each individual state and how some of them are going to be voting … and in the swing states, it was cool to see which ones they picked.”

The idea to hold a prediction event came from teacher Jennifer Wilson, who held similar projects when she taught in Alabama. The goal is to get students more engaged in the election process, as well as to consider more than just who might win.

“They had to look at race, religion, ethnicities and they had to look at demographics such as income levels,” Wilson said. “So they had a very diverse amount of things to look at before they were even allowed to look at the issues.

“And once they had an idea of what their state was like, then they could look at the issues.”

Garrett Hunt was among the students who said they were more intevrested in the election, watched the debates and likely will continue to do so in the future.

“I probably wouldn’t have even followed it if it wasn’t for this and this has definitely made it more fun,” Hunt said. “I’ll definitely look more into politics.”

Mary Kate Erb knew her state, Massachusetts, would pick Obama, but said it was an area she didn’t know much about before the project.

“I had a lot of fun researching the state,” she said. “It was a really amazing experience. We put our own political views aside to have a state and be behind the state.

“No matter who you were for before, for this project you got behind your state and wanted the candidate for your state to prevail.”

For Wheeler, the small project in one high school should be a model for all voters, he said.

“You weren’t just spoon-fed what your parents taught you, or all the lies and all the propaganda that goes around,” he said. “You actually researched.

“And that’s what I think the problem is in America. There are not enough people researching. So I think it was a good idea for preparing for the next election.”

To gather information, students checked U.S. Census data and state records and even searched the Library of Congress.

Making a decision was difficult for many of the swing states, including Colorado, Iowa, Ohio and Virginia. And while it wasn’t a competition, Wilson said the exercise was a matter of pride for students.

“They ultimately don’t want to be wrong and that’s the big thing,” Wilson said. “Nobody wants to think they did all that work and it didn’t come out the way they thought. So they really, really, really wanted to get it right.”

 

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