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United States Census Bureau Launches Exciting New “Statistics in Schools” Program

Keep a keen eye on your mailboxes over the next few months.  The 2020 Census is on its way, and starting in mid-March, homes across the United States will be receiving an invitation to be counted.  The 2020 Census is an incredibly important event, as the collected data will determine Congressional representation, inform hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funding, as well as creating the sort of data that will impact your community for the next decade.  And if you’re a K-12 teacher, this data is an absolute goldmine for course content.

If there's one thing I keep hearing from teachers in my district, it's that they need relevant, timely, real-world data to help fuel the authenticity of the work in their classrooms.  The Census Bureau’s (SIS) program has got you covered.  The SIS program not only provides census statistics and resources in a variety of creative student-friendly modes, but they have also created a wealth of standards-aligned and materials to help bring that data alive in your classroom.  Recently, Education World had the opportunity to speak to SIS Ambassador and Maine High School history teacher Maryam Emami.  Maryann uses SIS materials in her classroom and is a champion of the SIS message by sharing materials with colleagues.  She is a veteran educator with over 20 years in the business – who has found the SIS resources to be an absolute gift.  And with the hard push for 21st century skills, it might just be what we’re all looking for in teaching these valuable skills.

“When working with numbers in the classroom, I saw time and time again how much my students struggled with understanding charts, graphs, datasets, and other forms of visually represented data,” Emami states. “It became a focus for our district.”

Learning 21st century skills have become a focus area for many of our school districts across the country.  In an age where information is constantly streaming into our awareness from all corners of the globe, it has become increasingly important to teach our students to become more thoughtful consumers of content.  They must have a clear understanding of not only how to interpret this information, but also how data can “talk” to each other, and to recognize the stories they tell.  Emami believes the SIS resources provide an excellent introduction to this kind of work.

 “I like the visuals and the interactive maps, and the students do, as well.  They get excited about it.  The amount of data available, the quality of that analytical information – it makes some of the more difficult statistical concepts very accessible to our visual learners,” Emami notes. “It’s a great starting point to get kids used to reading data, and it helps them to quickly increase their confidence and comfort with interpreting and manipulating statistics.”

In our review of the extensive library of available resources , one can see the educators and data scientists that put together SIS’s also had something else in mind: engagement.  Each lesson in the activities for the 9-12 classroom provides a different glimpse into the state of our nation, from generational population changes to modern social justice issues.  The “” activity allows students to examine how their , encouraging students to browse an interactive map, comparing our country – county by county – and investigating the factors that impact that social mobility.  With “” students can look at data that shows how the millennial generation differs from previous generations in the United States.  The “” allows students to use the tool to dive deeply into mapping, visualizing, and analyzing the geographic distribution of various races and ethnicities in the United States.

“The work here is authentic,” Emami contends. “It’s not rote memorization.  I give them a chart, map, or quote, they have to interpret it, digging deep into that source to figure out what the source is really telling us.  In this sense, they get to act like real historians: navigating primary documents, using critical thinking skills, and connecting what they discover to their lives.”

She adds, “It’s especially great for interdisciplinary work.  Currently, our class is reading a novel about Irish immigration, analyzing art from that period, and just today we were looking at SIS’s “” infographic to better understand the Irish potato famine and the impact of that migration on the current United States population.”

The resources made available by the SIS program come at a time where statistical literacy demands are at an all-time high.  The ranked 16-to-24-year-olds in the United States 21st in numeracy proficiency out of the 21 participating countries.  A to over a thousand U.S. business leaders, reported that “only 33 percent of employees feel confident in their data literacy skills, defined as the ability to read, work with, analyze and argue with data.”  Educational institutions across the country have responded by investing massive amounts of time and resources into initiatives set to make sure that the upcoming generation masters the numeracy and data literacy skills that will be most essential for tomorrow’s workforce.

An added benefit to integrating this kind of work into your classroom is that it draws community attention to participation in the 2020 Census.  The decennial count directly impacts the federal funds that schools receive, including classroom technology, special education services, teacher training, school lunch assistance, and after-school programming. 

As for finding a starting point for integrating rich resources such as Fun Facts, Warm up activities and videos into your school’s curriculum, Emami suggests these tools market themselves: “Commit to one thing you can do, and it’ll be infectious.  It happened at my school!”

Written by Keith Lambert, Education World Associate Contributing Editor

Lambert is an English / Language Arts teacher in Connecticut.

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