Lesson 1: Map Data and the Census

Grades 5–6

words to know

Strand: Map Literacy

Skills and Objectives

  • bullet Understand how the United States
       Constitution grants and distributes power
  • bullet Know the ways in which the spatial organization
       of society changes over time
  • bullet Use thematic maps

Before starting, print and copy the student worksheets and hang the wall map. You can also download the It's About Us Census Fact Sheet to refresh your understanding of the U.S. census.

Materials: The U.S. Census—Collecting 200 Years of Data Student Worksheet 1a and What's It Like? Student Worksheet 1b, United States Demographics wall map , two thumbtacks

Time Required: Two 40-minute sessions

    Getting Started

  1. Invite students to stand in a circle and count off. Ask a volunteer to be the recorder and write the number of students present on the board. Next have students share their birth months; the recorder should list this information as well. Ask: Which month has the most birthdays? Which has the least?
  2. Explain that every 10 years the U.S. Census Bureau counts every person living in the country and collects data about age, gender, and race.
  3. Using the Student Worksheets

  4. Tell students that they will be learning about the history of the census. Distribute copies of The U.S. Census—Collecting 200 Years of Data Student Worksheet 1a, which explains the history of the census and why it is taken.
  5. Ask student volunteers to read the article on the worksheet aloud, including the 2010 Census information. Assess comprehension with questions such as:

    • Introduction: Why was a census needed so soon after the War for Independence? (to appoint each state the correct number of members to the House of Representatives)
    • The First Census: Some people thought that the first census undercounted the population. Why? (Data could have been misplaced or incorrectly collected.)
    • The Expanding Census: What was happening in the United States in the mid-1800s that increased the desire for more census questions? (e.g., immigration, westward expansion, urban growth, industrial growth)
  6. Outline and discuss the changes the census has undergone since the first census in 1790. Explain that a decennial census is required by the Constitution, but Congress decides many of the details.
  7. Using the Wall Map

  8. Use the wall map to identify local population changes. Locate the census data from the map inset called U.S. Population in 1900. Place a thumbtack over your town or city on the 1900 map. Ask: What was the density of your local population in 1900? How did it compare to the population density of the rest of your state?
  9. Place a thumbtack over your town or city on the main map. Use your students’ knowledge of local and state history to discuss the changes in population density that took place in your town, city, and state between 1900 and 2000.
  10. Wrap-up

  11. Encourage students to collect anecdotes from their family and friends about past censuses. Distribute What’s It Like? Student Worksheet 1b. Have students complete the worksheet as homework.
  12. Invite students to share what they learned about census participation from their interviews, as well as anything students taught their families about the census.

Action Extension

Now that students understand what the census is, challenge them to accompany an adult to a town or school meeting to encourage participation in the 2010 Census. Invite them to design special posters, bumper stickers, or buttons, as well as present the local information they researched. They may want to attend an informational meeting in your area sponsored by the U.S. Census Bureau.

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