Every year, the rising high-school sophomores at the Crimson Summer Academy take a field trip to a Boston neighborhood as part of their Quantitative Reasoning class. “What,” you may ask, “does a field trip to a neighborhood have to do with quantitative reasoning?”
Well, I’m glad you asked.
This is really an applied math course, so it’s partly math and partly other subjects to which we apply the mathematics. For the sophomores that’s mostly civics, a topic sorely lacking in most high school curricula these days. In particular, the second unit of our summer consists of applying math to models of voting and elections — such as how the Electoral College works, and how two-round runoff works and why it’s better than the first-past-the-post system we use for state government in Massachusetts. (We compare and contrast the State model with the modified two-round runoff used in Boston and the proportional runoff system used in Cambridge.) As part of this endeavor, we have eight groups, each consisting of four sophomores and led by a college-student “mentor,” each visiting a nearby Boston neighborhood to take photos, survey some residents, interview one resident in depth, and generally get a feel for the place. On their return, the students begin to do some Internet research to establish a quantitative and qualitative analysis of the neighborhood, with particular emphasis on how the demographics of the neighborhood explain (or don’t explain, as the case may be) their voting patterns. In that context, the students learn about City Council districts, wards, precincts, etc.
For some years now the groups have visited JP, Beacon Hill, Chinatown, Roxbury, South Boston, South End, Fenway/Kenmore, and Allston/Brighton. (Not enough time to get to Dorchester, Charlestown, East Boston, etc., within the constraints of our afternoon.) Usually seven of the groups have succeeded in finding interviewees and people to survey. But Chinatown has always been a problem, since the large majority of residents whom they approached claimed not to speak English. So we reluctantly replaced it with Mission Hill this year for yesterday’s visit. At the end of the month, when each group delivers a presentation to the entire sophomore class, we’ll see the results. I am eager to find out whether it was a good change or not. I will let you know.