Eight years ago was my first opportunity to teach about a current presidential election. I was psyched! My fourth graders and I did a ton of research about the candidates and the idea of the election in general. We even set up to exit poll voters. Some of my students came in on the teacher workday and stood outside the school to ask voters about their choices. Our plan was to do some graphing with the results and compare to the state and country. However, the students arrived the next day and we still didn't know who the next president would be. We wouldn't know for a few more weeks. It was painful. I really had no idea how to explain the electoral college and the fiasco that was Florida to fourth graders.
Four years ago I taught an intersession class in October about the election. (We're on a modified calendar so we have optional breaks in October, January, and March/April. We offer really fun classes to students who choose to come.) I worked with fourth and fifth graders to learn about the candidates and about how campaigns and elections work. We researched the various positions on important issues, created campaign posters and buttons, and wrote campaign speeches. We then invited other classes to come in, learn from us, and vote. It was a blast.
This year I was nervous. I'm teaching first grade now and I had no idea what to expect when addressing the election. However, I was unwilling to ignore it. So, we read Duck for President and talked about the upcoming election. We used some basic resources for kids online to learn about the candidates. I had students write/draw the most important or interesting things they learned about John McCain and Barack Obama. We created a VoiceThread with what we had learned. The other first grade classes watched our VoiceThread and then all of them voted. The results were overwhelmingly in favor of Barack Obama (but we think the fact that they learned he played basketball was a major factor). It was a really fun experience.
I did learn that first graders latch on to some odd things sometimes. One of the sites we looked at (I think it was Scholastic, but I'm not sure) had fun trivia bits about each candidate. It had their nicknames when they were kids. This is how we learned that Obama had played basketball. The site said that John McCain was called Punk or McNasty as a kid because he fought so much. I didn't spend a lot of time on this fact, but I did share it. It seemed innocent enough to me until one of my students asked me, "What was he called when he farted so much?"
Sadly, she was not the only one who had heard it that way. Many of my students asked similar questions over several days. Come to think of it, maybe that impacted the votes for Obama.