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U.S. Census data: Exploring community, history, data, and change

Written by Trey Smith
September 01, 2010

The 2010 U.S. Census generated quite a bit of interest in communities across the country this past year. Census data and the history and process of taking a census provides a number of entry points for classroom learning. What might census data show abou the community in which a school is located? How might census data provide a lens through which to study a specific locale or time period? What kinds of writing can students undertake that engages with interpreting data in tables or on maps?

The U.S. Census website has a number of features that teachers and students might explore: a lesson planning resource collection, a digital archive of historical census documents, a state and county fast fact finder, and a more complex tool that generates maps and data tables at the level of individual blocks in a neighborhood. All of the features allow for teachers and students to explore community, history, data, and change.

On the census website, there is an option to complete an address search on the left side of the page. Typing in an address in a small community in Alabama generated a map of a “block” (which seems to vary greatly in shape and size from a typical city block).

After typing in an address, you can choose to find demographic data (race, income, gender, age) by block or congressional district or school system or a number of other geographic boundaries. Included below is a table showing data from the same Alabama community in the map above.

Students can compare blocks or cities over a period of decades and use the data to understand how neighborhoods have changed. And this is only a beginning.

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