Lesson 2: Numbers Tell a Story

Grades 9–12

Strand: Managing Data

Skills and Objectives

  • bullet Connect census data to historical events
  • bullet Understand cause and effect, and how they are reflected in census data
  • bullet Analyze census data for social and economic significance

Materials: Numbers Tell a Story Student Worksheet 2, wall map

Time Required: One 40-minute class period

    Getting Started

  1. Explain to students that the U.S. census has measured and tracked the growth of the United States since the earliest days of the country. For this reason, census data are a gold mine of information for historians. Census data are also useful for anyone studying cause and effect and the connection between statistics and the real world.
  2. Divide the class into four groups. Have each group research the statistics mentioned in Step 3 below. Be sure to point out to students that data come from more sources than the decennial census. American FactFinder, located at  http://factfinder.census.gov, offers a variety of information that goes beyond the data the decennial census gathers.
  3. Write the following statistics on the board:
    1. U.S. Gross Domestic Product in 1929 (in current dollars not adjusted for inflation): $103.6 billion; U.S. Gross Domestic Product in 1933 (in current dollars not adjusted for inflation): $56.4 billion
    2. Percent Population Change in Oklahoma, 1900–1910: 109.7%
    3. Federal Government Spending, as percentage of GDP in 1944: 43.7%; Federal Government Spending, as percentage of GDP in 1954: 18.7%
    4. States that lost population between 1930 and 1940: KS; NE; ND; OK; SD
  4. Explain to students that important or significant historical events are often reflected in census data. Invite students to review the statistics on the board, then ask them to think about which historical event most likely led to each statistical change. (Answers: 3a. the Great Depression; 3b. the Oklahoma Land Run and statehood; 3c. World War II; 3d. the Dust Bowl.) Summarize your talk by leading a discussion about what other events in the past might be reflected in census data. Possible events include: westward expansion, war casualties, war spending, immigration, economic booms and crises, industrialization, urbanization, suburbanization, etc.
  5. Using Student Worksheet 2

  6. Distribute copies of Numbers Tell a Story Student Worksheet 2. Instruct students to study the data table and answer the questions that follow.
  7. Allow students to use the wall map to compare the worksheet data with the data on the map.

    Answers to Student Worksheet 2

  1. Answers will vary, but should include those cities that gained population: New York; Los Angeles; Houston; Phoenix; San Diego; Dallas; San Antonio; San Jose; Indianapolis; San Francisco; Jacksonville; Columbus; Austin; Memphis; or cities that lost population: Chicago; Philadelphia; Detroit; Baltimore; Cleveland; Washington, DC; St. Louis; Milwaukee; Boston; New Orleans; Pittsburgh.
  2. Texas and California
  3. The Southwest
  4. Answers will vary, but may include: Relocation of industry to southern states or an increase in immigration to the South.
  5. As population moves south and west, political power shifts there, too, including House of Representatives seats, electoral votes, and political influence.
  6. Answers will vary, but may include: On the large map, many of the largest counties are in the same areas as the new largest cities; on the inset map showing non-English speakers, many of the states with the highest percentages of non-English speakers are the same states as those with rapidly growing cities.

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