Overview

During the week of 10/31-11/4, a total of 290 Chase Street students in 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades participated in a mock election in the library to determine our school’s choice for the next President of the United States.

Before voting, students used a variety of resources to learn about the election process, how voting rights have changed over the years, and what kinds of issues citizens consider when casting their votes.

To make the process as similar as possible to adults’ experiences on Election Day, students waited in line to cast their votes (in a voting booth on a touchscreen!) via this secret ballot that I created using Google Forms:

mock-election-ballot
Wow! In looking back at our 2012 ballot and comparing it to this one, I’m amazed at how much Google Forms has evolved in four years!

Just like at a regular polling place, students were not allowed to campaign or discuss their candidate choices while waiting in line. And after casting their ballots, they received red, white, and blue “I Voted!” stickers.

Results

I shared the results of our mock election during yesterday’s morning announcements. Here’s a breakdown of how our students voted:

mock-election-results
Google Forms magically filled in our pie chart with the right colors for each party!

The breakdown:

  • Hillary Clinton won with 251 votes (86.6%)
  • Donald Trump received 17 votes (5.9%)
  • Jill Stein received 12 votes (4.1%)
  • Gary Johnson received 10 votes (3.4%).

Students in Pre-K, Kindergarten, and 1st grade also learned about Election Day and voting in the library last week, but they did not vote in our mock election. Just like in real life, there was an age limit so that eligible voters could hopefully be as informed as possible before casting their ballots. 🙂

Did I share with students which candidate will get my vote today?

No, because I wanted students to form their own opinions without being swayed by my own. (But, from students’ comments and questions during our Election Day lessons, I could tell that many of them had, as you would expect, been influenced by the ideology of their parents or other adult role models.)

You can read some of our 5th graders’ thoughts about the election on our 5th grade blog.

Instruction

Here’s a rundown of how each grade level prepared for the election.


In Pre-K and kindergarten, we read Kay Winters’ book My Teacher for President:

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image via Avid Bookshop (click to visit)

I love this book because it discusses the various responsibilities and concerns of the President by comparing that line of work with a job students are more familiar with: teaching.

Reading the book prompted discussions with students about topics like leadership, the environment, health care, job creation, and promoting peace.

After reading, our youngest students worked together to write opinion pieces about why their own teachers would be great Presidents. You can read their writing here!


In 1st grade, our students have been discussing the difference between narrative and informational texts, so we used a pair of books to learn about the election process: the fiction book Duck for President and a nonfiction Rookie reader called Election Day:

election-bookflix
Screenshot via BookFLIX, which can be accessed with a PINES library card through our public library children’s area homepage – just click the link to “Animated Storybooks” in your sidebar and enter your library card number!

Duck for President presented the campaigning and election process in a humorous and engaging way, while Election Day was a perfect simple nonfiction text for introducing students to the basics of the election process.


In 2nd grade, we began our first lesson by reading Kelly DiPucchio’s Grace for President:

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image via Avid Bookshop (click to visit!)

This book is a wonderful introduction to the concepts of campaigning, voting, and the electoral college.

We followed up our discussion of the electoral college by interacting with the maps at 270toWin, which allowed students to see how each state’s electoral votes could affect the outcome of the election.

The following week, on each class’s voting day, we read My Teacher for President, but instead of thinking about how their teachers would handle the Presidency, students were asked to consider the real candidates. I told them to think about what they’d learned about each candidate, to consider which issues were most important to them, and to reflect on who they thought would handle those issues most effectively.

And, of course, after that, it was time to vote!


During week one of our election lessons, our 3rd grade students also read Grace for President and visited 270toWin to learn about the electoral process–but for week two, we made our focus on issues a little more specific.

We started this lesson with a video from the entertaining and wise Kid President:

kid-president
(click here to watch!)

After watching the video, we discussed how to express our opinions while maintaining respect for each other. In the words of Kid President himself:

“It’s okay to disagree. It’s NOT okay to be mean!”

– and –

“We’ve gotta treat people like they’re people, people!”

This set the tone for the rest of the lesson, and I was really impressed with how respectfully students shared their thoughts during our discussions that day.

Our next step was an election issues survey:

election-issues-survey
Click here to view the entire survey in Google Slides.

I’ve found great personal value in tools like ISideWith, which uses a series of multiple-choice opinion questions to match users with a candidate who shares their views on a variety of issues.

But I didn’t think ISideWith would be the best tool for me to use with students in grades 3-5 because of the number of questions (35+), the level of vocabulary, and the discussion of subjects like drug legalization, gun control, and abortion that wouldn’t have been age appropriate.

So I made my own survey as a series of Google Slides, linked in the caption above, and I used the candidates’ campaign websites as well as quotes from interviews and speeches to create the answer choices for each question.

To make things simple, each question had only two answer choices, the text of which correlated with views shared by each of the two main party candidates.

(Side note: We did discuss third-party candidates, but not in a lot of depth. Still, together Gary Johnson and Jill Stein garnered a combined 22 votes, or 7.5%!)

While students were encouraged to answer all of the questions if possible, they always had the option of leaving a question blank.

Before I advanced to the final slide, which revealed which candidate had expressed which views on an issue, we discussed the challenges we faced while answering the questions.

Some students’ results yielded a clear leaning towards one candidate or another, but others found their choices were more mixed. And I think this reflects real life, because the choices we make when voting are rarely black and white, and we can often find common ground with people on both sides of the political fence.

Once students got their quiz results, it was voting time. I don’t know if the issues quiz made any of them change their minds, but I hope it at least encouraged more thoughtful choices.


In 4th and 5th grades, our students study United States history in social studies–starting with the early Native Americans and European explorers in 4th grade and ending with the Civil Rights Movement and the modern era in 5th.

So week one of our election lessons focused on how voting rights have changed over the course of our country’s history:

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We watched the first 2:51 of this engaging video about the history of voting. You can click here to watch it yourself!

After watching the video, we read Jonah Winter and Shane Evans’ historical picture book Lillian’s Right to Vote:

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image via Avid Bookshop (click to visit!)

This gorgeous book, inspired by the life of Lillian Allen, traces a 100-year-old woman’s arduous journey to her polling place–and as she scales a steep hill, she reflects on the significance (both literal and figurative) of her climb.

As Lillian ascends the hill, her memories travel from her grandfather, born a slave, to her parents, who were bullied away from the polls. She recalls Jim Crow-era injustices of intimidation, poll taxes, literacy tests, and impossible questions.

Finally, Lillian recalls the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which finally and completely granted her–and millions of others–the right to vote.

My eyes welled up nearly every time I read this book aloud–tears of outrage at the beginning, and at the end, tears of hope.

The students’ comments and questions reflected this same arc, from anger to joy, as they followed Lillian up that steep, steep hill.

4th and 5th grade ended week one by learning more about the electoral college using 270toWin.

And in week two, like 3rd grade, the students considered Kid President’s wise advice and took the election issues survey before finally casting their votes.

Reflection

I’ve done mock elections before, but I think it’s safe to say that the atmosphere in 2016 has been a little…different.

Many educators around the country (like here and here) have struggled teaching about the election this year because of fears about the kind of rhetoric those class discussions might yield, and I’ll admit, I was hesitant myself.

What swayed my decision was this: no matter who is announced later tonight as the winner of this Presidential election, that person will very well be the first President my younger students remember.

I will forever be thankful for my 3rd grade language arts teacher, who in the fall of 1990 let us read in class about the Persian Gulf War after all of us had seen so much about it on the news.

Because of that experience, the first President I remember is George H.W. Bush. I remember thinking how hard it must be President during war time.

And after that, I paid attention.

I remember watching both of Bill Clinton’s inaugurations on TV.

I remember voting for the first time in the 2000 election–and then staying up all night trying to figure out what the result would be when things looked too close to call.

When I started teaching high school in 2004, my 9th and 10th grade language arts students watched and listened to news reports about the election.

They were nearly all supporters of the winner, incumbent George W. Bush, but I remember one student saying, “I’m glad Bush won, but Kerry’s [concession] speech showed he was a good sport. I like him.”

In 2008, I taught at a private school where the mock election results were nearly the opposite of the real election’s outcome: out of about 1100 students in grades K-12, around 1000 of them voted for John McCain and only 100 voted for Barack Obama.

My juniors and seniors that year also researched and wrote opinion pieces about the candidates as well as about controversial issues such as immigration, gun control, and abortion.

And in 2012…well, you can read all about that here.

When I reflected on all of that, it became clear to me that it was important to discuss the election with my students this year, too, despite the challenges.

Yes, 2016 is different. My approach to teaching was different, too.

But my goal was the same: to help students understand the basic workings of our democratic process, consider their choices from a thoughtful perspective, and ultimately have a chance to participate in a simulation of our representative democracy.

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