Hi, my name is Rachel Collishaw. I’m a teacher and education specialist at Elections Canada. In this video, I’ll be showing you how you can teach “Mapping Electoral Districts.”
What makes an electoral district fair? That’s the inquiry question that students explore in Mapping Electoral Districts. Students use geographic factors to divide an imaginary country into fair electoral districts.
We start with the Minds-On, the first part of the three-part lesson structure that’s embedded in all of our activities. These first 5 minutes help students connect their own experiences to the big idea of the lesson. In this minds on activity, students imagine that they are at a family event to celebrate a grandparent’s birthday. There are seven people at the party: two grandparents, two adults, one 3-year old child and two teenagers. Everyone wants cake!
Ask students: How would you divide the cake fairly?
Have students turn and talk with a partner or a small group to solve this problem. They usually have some pretty strong opinions about how to divide the cake!
It’s a really concrete way to show the difference between equality and equity. Now tell students to imagine that Canada is a giant cake! How would you divide it into 338 pieces? Explain that Canada is divided into 338 electoral districts, or ridings. In each one, voters elect one member of Parliament to represent everyone who lives there. Since the population changes, the number of districts is adjusted every ten years.
Now, introduce the inquiry question: What makes an electoral district fair? When deciding the boundaries of an electoral district in Canada, several factors are considered: the size of the population, geographic features, social factors, like culture and language. Students are now going to consider all of these real factors in dividing up an imaginary country to learn more about the real process.
Start the Activity phase of the lesson by dividing your class into small groups and giving out the maps and info sheet. When you order the kit, you’ll get enough for one classroom working in small groups. You will need to supply your own dry erase markers.
Here are the materials for each group: main map, three reference maps (population, language and shared history), and the info sheet. Everything is also available to download and print from our website.
Explain that students will apply the concept of fairness to map electoral boundaries on their imaginary country. Students begin by naming their country, then they must work together to divide it into electoral districts that are as fair as possible.
The main map has one district already marked to get them started. They will need to add seven more districts for a total of eight. They can create more, if they need to, but they do have to justify their decisions.
Students should first consider how to divide the population fairly so that each district has a similar number of people. They also have to consider the other factors shown on the reference maps. This work can take a bit of time. Students usually start out by calculating populations and getting familiar with the maps before they get into drawing the boundaries. Make sure you have erasers at the ready – they are going to change their minds lots of times as they work through the process!
One of my favourite challenges in this activity is the island district with the historical electoral boundary and a low population. Most groups merge that district with another on the mainland to make the population match the others. I’ve often wondered if students in Prince Edward Island would do the same!
Sometimes students just put circles around the population markers without considering that citizens also live in these areas that look “empty” because there are no population markers. This is a great learning opportunity to help students understand how maps use symbols to represent reality.
Where they draw the electoral boundaries can tell you a lot about their geographic thinking! There are no right or wrong answers in this activity and every group’s map will look different. It is a complex task that requires strong collaboration and communication skills. If you want to help your students improve those skills, you can use the assessment rubric that we provide with each lesson as a starting point.
Some groups are bound to finish before others. You can always extend their learning by giving them one of the wild cards we provide as an extension that brings in more real-life geographic challenges!
Once everyone is finished their map, have students post their maps on the wall and have them share their thinking with the other groups and see how their maps are similar and different. There are a lot of ways to manage this activity to make sure everyone stays engaged. I like to use a “Stay ‘n Stray” protocol. Some students stay behind at their own map, while others visit, then switch halfway through. This protocol gives students the chance to both explain their own group’s thinking and to consider other ways of thinking.
Once they’ve returned to their own group, ask students to share with the class what they observed about the other maps. There are so many ways to solve this puzzle, that it is pretty unlikely that two groups will choose the exact same divisions.
Next, you can show the video “Interview with an Elections Canada Geographer.” Joanne Geremian explains her role in the real process of mapping federal electoral boundaries. This short video introduces students to an interesting career in geography and shows them the impacts that real-life geographers can have! After the video, students return to the inquiry question and complete the exit card to reflect on their learning. Students now understand that our federal process of mapping electoral districts considers many factors to make sure that it’s as fair as possible.
What I love about this lesson is that it makes a complex topic really engaging and easy to understand. Students can also gain a deeper appreciation that our elections are closely related to our geography, and hopefully they can start to see their own place in our democracy.
We want to know if your students liked the activity. Share your experience and photos on our Twitter and Facebook accounts!