Mathematics of Democracy: A Story of Three Weeks (part 1)

Imagine that you had three weeks with a group of ~20 students. You can do WHATEVER you want with them during those three weeks, because you have them all day long. There has to be some academic rigor to your choice, but that is the only restriction. What would you do?

This is what my school asked us to imagine a little over two years ago. We had voted (unanimously, which is unheard of) to move to a semester schedule with two “Immersive” courses, in January and June, during which students would take one class,  equivalent to a one-semester credit. We were encouraged to work together, to dream big and to think about doing things in this course that we couldn’t otherwise do during “business as usual” semester courses.

For a variety of reasons our school decided to wait for two years before implementing the change to a semester schedule (prior to this, we were on trimesters). During those two years we were first asked, in year one, to plan a “practice” immersive course and then, in year two, to write a proposal for a course we wanted to teach the following year a.k.a. the 2018-2019 school year a.k.a. THIS YEAR!

Well, friends, I knew immediately what I wanted to do: Mathematics of Democracy.

The name hadn’t yet been found, but what I wanted to do was a Voting Theory course that explored the math behind elections. A course in which students learned about civics and math. I needed a partner, someone who taught social studies, and luckily I found one in my colleague, Craig Butz.

In year one, we mapped out our course: the essential questions, the arc of the course, how the different strands of representation, voting theory and civic engagement would play off of one another. In year two, we planned in more detail, what a typical day looked like, who would teach what when, what kinds of trips we wanted to go on. We gave ourselves large To Do lists before parting ways for the summer.


And then I had a baby…

So that was cool.

Craig did whatever he did to make sure all of our field trips and guest speakers were arranged for. A parent helped a TON with this too, doing things like putting us in contact with staffs for various city and state elected officials so we could coordinate meetings and finding people who’d worked on the SF city redistricting project in various capacities to create a panel of experts for our students. She even found me a lactation room I could use on our trip to the State Capital! Truly a valuable asset to our course planning process.

Before we knew it, the first day of the course had arrived. Which was also my first day back at work following maternity leave. Teaching an all-day, three-week long course is certainly an…interesting…way to come back into full-time teaching. In some ways it was really perfect, though. Because we had the students all day, we started school later than usual and ended a smidge earlier. Because we were co-teaching, I could leave to go pump whenever I needed to.

Screenshot 2019-04-05 10.23.23

However, I’m guessing the Venn diagram of teachers who would love to add Mathematics of Democracy content to their curricula and the teachers who have tiny babies at home is fairly sparsely populated, so I think I’ll move on.

When we initially planned out our course, this is the map we made outlining the big ideas we’d bring in/out/through the course:


As we all know, nothing goes exactly to plan…

But that is the story for a second post.

One thought on “Mathematics of Democracy: A Story of Three Weeks (part 1)

  1. Wow! I would teach “Brave new world with industry 4.0” or something like that. I would need help from mechanical and electric ingeneer. And my part would be a lot of programming (controler, data base, HTML, PHP) and some trigonometry for electric engeneering, and a lot of geometry for machining! And, for not repeating myself, I would maybe make another course about robotics, but that I haven’t imagined exactly how, yet. Or, something extreemly interesting with Physics teacher about usage of all the functions kids learn about in Algebra II? And, how about making animations? Or programming games? I have millon ideas 😀 I’d love to have that kind of oportunity!

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