My favorite assignment/lesson so far

Last summer Laurel linked to this (“Messing with Texas” by Nate Silver on fivethirtyeight.com). Every year I introduce myself to my students as being from Texas and every year I know they think immediately of Dallas (the tv show) and George W. Bush. (Of course, many Americans are guilty of this too, though they generally have a few extra stereotypes to draw from.)

But I also know that Texas is sort of an interesting topic because it is the subject of so much lore. So this year, after they introduced themselves and I introduced myself briefly, we read this from Time magazine and then read the blog post, which is about splitting Texas up into five new states. Here’s what Nate Silver (who was mostly interested in the political/electoral implications of such a split) came up with:

If you’re interested in the fictional political implications–El Norte would be Democrat, and New Texas would be a swing state. All the rest would stay Republican.

I remember reading during the 2008 primary campaigns that it was really hard to campaign in Texas because it was like campaigning in four or five different states, with drastically different demographics and political opinions. So I gave this to my students as a way of throwing down the stereotypes and making them discover a little bit of the vast diversity there is in this (still heavily conservative but not entirely either) state.

Then I made them choose a place to live and explain why. I gave them a long list of links (around 20) to get started and then told them to do their own internet research. Here is a pdf image (you can zoom in) of what they all chose. A circle means one person chose it. I couldn’t do any better than a pdf—this was harder to make than I thought, so here’s a summary:

Edit: Laurel told me how to do my own Google map so you can go look there too.

Gulfland: 18 students
El Norte: 9 students
Plainland: 1 student
New Texas: 11 students
Trinity: 1 student

and by city:

Corpus Christi: 1
Laredo: 1
Houston: 12
Beaumont: 1
somewhere in Llano Escalado: 1
El Paso: 3
Brownsville: 2
Austin: 6
somewhere in the Valley: 1
somewhere in the Hill Country: 1
Dallas: 1
Alpine: 1
Baytown: 1
San Antonio: 3
Galveston: 1
College Station:1

(Yes, someone chose College Station. I laughed out loud.)

Most of them had really good reasons and most had done really good research. I was practically convinced I would like to live in El Paso. Most of them were attracted to El Norte because of the Mexican culture, but some of them did pick up on the fact that it’s a very poor area. I was super happy with the six who chose Austin and the three who chose San Antonio. I should also say that I am not at all surprised that 12 of them chose Houston, given that they are future engineers.

Anyway, I totally loved this assignment and what they came up with.

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4 thoughts on “My favorite assignment/lesson so far

  1. Laurel says:

    That is freaking awesome.

    For the record, google maps allows you to plot points. In the upper-left-hand corner there should be a My Maps link; click that and do Create New Map and then you get all sorts of options of various markers and lines that you can place and draw all over google maps. e.g. you could have put a pinpoint every time a student chose a given city, and then just taken a screenshot of the final product. (We use this in undergrad socioling classes, because they have to do a dialect survey of friends and relatives across the country and then pinpoint which states say, e.g., soda and which say pop.)

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