Motivating Politics as a STEM Discipline for Middle & High School Students

Posted by on December 03, 2012

Motivating Politics as a STEM Discipline for Middle & High School Students through Participatory Experiments and Demonstrations

This initiative is sponsored by the Workshop on the Scientific Study of Politics at the Department of Political Science at Texas A&M University, Midwest Political Science Association (MPSA), and the National Science Foundation grant on “The Creation and Classroom Application of a Web Portal for Social Science Methods Education” and aims to engage middle and high school students, particularly in rural and diverse communities, with age-appropriate mathematical and scientific learning activities related to the study of politics. This Program aims to excite interest from these students in the relevance of mathematics and science to their lives, and the importance and relevance of core theoretical concepts in the scientific study of politics.

Funding of $2,000 will be provided for middle and high school teachers to participate in the program, which is held in conjunction with the Midwest Political Science Association’s Annual Meeting, April 11-14, 2013, at the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago, IL (  Travel costs and stipend are part of the $2,000. The purposes of the MPSA are to promote the professional study and teaching of political science, to facilitate communications between those engaged in such study, and to develop standards for and encourage research in theoretical and practical political problems.

The Motivating Politics Program is developing a number of experiments and demonstrations in ways that are accessible to and appeal to middle and high-school students. The foci of the activities illuminate core theoretical concepts in political science, properly understood, rather than on civics. The experiments and demonstrations allow active participation by all students.

The five primary activities developed and presented are:

[1] Voting cycles. (Students are assigned preferences over dessert items. The agenda setter (a teacher) will lead students through three series of pair-wise, majority votes. Each voting sequence will generate a different majority winner.)

[2] Tyranny of the majority/”democracy” versus “majoritarianism.” (In round 1, students will be assigned to teams, and vote on a “tax” and distribution scheme. Discussion follows whether the proposed scheme is fair or unfair. In round 2, one student from the majority group will be assigned the role of judge, with a charge to strike down “unfair” allocations. Discussion can follow whether the student strikes down an unfair proposal or sustains it.)

[3] Collective action. Students pick numbers from a jar, dividing them into one of the two groups: Developed and Developed. Developed countries will each get 10 candies. Developing countries will each get one candy. Tell the students they next must decide on the number of candies and put them to a common pot that will be used to produce clean air (this could be done secretly, openly, or sequentially, which will produce somewhat different outcomes). They are told that if a certain level of candies are not in the common pot (say, 40 candies), then there is no clean air and the teacher will take away 5 candies from developed countries and 1 candy from developing country. If the common pot ends up having 40 candies, then developed countries get 5 more candies and developing countries get 1 more candy. End result: Students will be able to see the benefit of cooperation, while seeing the difficulty of collective action.

[4] Information aggregation in voting. Students will vote whether the number of marbles in several jars are higher or lower than a given number for each jar. The majority choice will be right in greater proportion than the proportion of individual votes.

[5] Cheap talk and “efficient waste.” Two leaders will engage in a round of cheap talk over who wants a trinket more than the others. Students will vote over who they think wanted the trinket more. The two leaders will engage in a second round. One of the leaders will generate a costly signal (e.g., tearing up a $10 bill). Students will vote again and discuss.

In addition to attending the Motivating Politics panel, participants will have a demonstration of OPOSSEM, the Online Portal for Social Science Education in Methodology, which is an online community and repository for sharing of various resources for teaching social science research methods among educators in secondary, undergraduate, and postgraduate settings. It is our hope that participants will share materials on the site that they may have or develop as a result of participation. There will be a group dinner for networking during the conference as well.

Interested applicants should send an email explaining their interest and background to Janet M. Box-Steffensmeier,, by January 15, 2013. Decisions will be announced around January 31, 2013. We expect teachers from social studies and mathematics to be particularly interested, but teachers from any subject are welcome to apply for funding. There is funding for 15 participants. More are welcome to attend, but there is a limit of 15 funded participants.

Questions? Please contact:

Janet M. Box-Steffensmeier
Department of Political Science
Ohio State University
2140 Derby Hall, 154 N. Oval Mall
Columbus, OH 43210-1373
614 975 5812


James R. Rogers
Department Head
Department of Political Science
Texas A&M University
4348 TAMU
College Station, TX 77843-4348
979 865 8833

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