image capture of map activity in software

Teaching Gerrymandering

There is a really neat way to teach how complex a task drawing political district boundaries can be, and thus what gerrymandering can do to a political system.  Developed by Ben Kraft at the MIT Educational Studies Program, the exercise  gives students maps of varying levels of complexity, and asks them to draw and justify boundaries.  These “maps” start off simply, with a smaller-population version of “Splashland” called Splooshland:

image with randomly placed dots
A map with no districts.

But as you add dots, draw boundaries, and give the dots affiliations, Splashland’s districting can get pretty difficult pretty quickly:

Image with red and blue randomly placed dots separated by lines.
A map with equipopulous districts and affiliations.

As the difficulty scales up and becomes more like real life, Kraft recommends bringing in reality-based examples from the Voting Rights Act to enrich the discussion.  Students will learn about more than just political boundaries; as Boing Boing’s Cory Doctorow put it, “I learned that district-boundaries have a lot more subtlety and complexity than I’d imagined at first, and that there are some really chewy math and computer science problems lurking in there.”

Finish off the lesson by using the Map: Massachusetts Fourth Congressional District in WorldView‘s U.S. Government to give students a real-world example of redistricting (there’s a screenshot of it in the featured image).

BulbgraphOnOffUse social media such as a Facebook group to take and share class notes, share study resources, and ask questions.

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Dr. Annelies Kamran is V.P. for Content and Product Development at WorldView Software, Inc.

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