Lesson 6: Mapping the Census

Grades 9–12

Strand: Map Literacy

Skills and Objectives

  • bullet Learn the key elements of cartography
  • bullet Examine the difference between data and their representation
  • bullet Create a map using census data

Materials: Mapping the Census Student Worksheet 6, atlas or globe

Time Required: One 40-minute class period

    Getting Started

  1. Direct students’ attention to the wall map. Remind students that these maps are visual representations of data. Each map on the poster features a different set of data. The legend, or key, can be found in a small box near the map and explains what the symbols and colors on each map represent. The colors and corresponding numbers in the key represent a data range shown on the map.

  2. Ask for volunteers to come up to the poster and identify the data ranges for each map. Then ask the class to list similarities and differences between the maps. (Examples: A similarity is that all of the maps use color gradations to indicate ranges of data; a difference is that the larger map breaks states down into counties, but the smaller maps do not.)

  3. Use examples from an atlas, globe, or other source to show a variety of maps, such as physical or political. Explain that, like the wall poster, most maps show fixed physical or political boundaries of areas. However, some maps, such as cartograms, change shape according to the data they are representing. Tell students that they will learn more about cartograms in Lesson 7.

  4. Explain that the U.S. census generates millions of data points every 10 years. The census is an act of data collection, while a map is a tool for data representation. A map is a quick and easy way to present data to users.
  5. Using Student Worksheet 6

  6. Distribute Mapping the Census Student Worksheet 6. Tell students that they will be creating a map of their own using data they find on the Census Bureau Web site.

  7. Instruct students to visit the American FactFinder site at http://factfinder.census.gov. Point out that there are countless ways to find data on the site, but clicking Get Data under "Decennial Census" might be the fastest.

  8. Students should generate their own table of data. The data should be by state, rather than by nation or region. Students should have data for every state. Once they have generated a table, they can print it or save it.

  9. In order to separate their data into ranges for the map, instruct students to arrange the data from least to greatest, and divide the data according to the number of ranges they want (between three and five). Hint: Sorting the data from least to greatest is easiest if they download the table as a spreadsheet and use the "sort" function.

  10. The key should assign a color to each of the ranges. Have students fill in the blank map on their worksheet. Remind them to give the map a title.
  11. Wrap-up

  12. Have students share their final maps with the class. Discuss the different ways that students represented data with their maps.