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Plan a research brief | Be US Census Bureau’s Chief Analyst (Lesson 1 of 5) | 6-8

Student Objective

Students will be able to:
1. Plan a research strategy to find credible information to answer an intellectually challenging question about a large population
2. Create a criteria and set of variables to use for evaluating a research question
3. Organize information using a digital tool (google slides)


Materials Required:

  • Google Drive Account per student and for teacher
  • Google Slides setup (google slide 8)
  • US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey Data for 5 States (cleaned and available here)
  • ACS Community Survey Data Codebook (cleaned and available here)
  • Each student will each require a computer for this activity
  • Padlet accounts for each student created (or set Padlet board to be used without login)

Key Terms that will be Used:

  • US Census Bureau
  • American Community Survey (ACS)
  • Household Income
  • Food Stamp Recipients
  • Codebook
  • Variables
  • Household Unit
  • Numerical and Categorical Data

Step 1: Students brainstorm how they determine whether a “household unit” is doing “well or not”

  • Think – Pair – Share:  “How do you know if a family is doing well or not so well?  (Provide an example: ‘There’s enough space in the house for everyone”)
    • Think: students brainstorm using digital board (padlet)
    • Pair: students share with a partner what they brainstormed and why
    • Share: students share out what their partner shared and their reasoning
  • Stamp:
    • The different ways you know if a family is doing well are what an analyst would call, “variables”
    • An analyst collects this information for many households and they “vary” from family to family
    • After collecting this information, they compare these variables of a family and can see how they change at different points in time

Step 2: Introduce Enduring Question and Student Objective

  • Today, you will take the first steps to be a government analyst
  • You will plan a research strategy by selecting a list of variables to evaluate whether families within a US state are doing better over time.
  • You will answer a critical question for a US Governor: “Are the families in my state doing better or worse from 10 years ago?”

Step 3: (Learn It) Introduce the Scenario of the Activity

  • “It’s 2020, and the governors of Washington, Wyoming, South Dakota , New York, and North Carolina ask the Chief of the US Census Bureau to help them answer a critical question each of them have: ‘Are the families in our states better off than they were 10 years ago?'”
    • Define: US Census Bureau
  • “The Bureau Chief comes, gives you the data on the states, and asks you as his Chief Analyst to create a report for one state before creating the rest.”
    • The data he gave you comes from the surveys it sends out to every household every 10 years called the US Census
  • [Check for understanding]
  • You need to
    • Choose which of the 5 states you want to write your report on.

[Allow students to select the state they want]

Step 4: Have students review the data and name the variables available in the dataset

  • Provide the students the US American Community Survey (ACS) data from 2010 and 2019 via Google Sheets in separate tabs (one tab for 2000, one tab for 2010) along with the codebook
    • Define:
      • American Community Survey
      • Codebook
  • Think-Pair-Share: Have them list out on google slides:
    • Think independently
      • the names of the variables in the sheet
      • a short description of variable
      • what type of data is collected (is it numerical or categorical?)
    • Pair:
      • Share what they listed
    • Share
      • Select 2-3 students to share out what they listed with their partner
  •  Stamp and Name each variable, each description, and data type

Step 5: Have students figure out that they can compare a household in one year to a household in another

  • Think – Pair – Share:  How can we use these variables to determine if a household is doing better over time?  (Make clear that certain variables will not be used for analysis: HH SERIAL, StateName and YEAR)
    • Think independently (silent)
    • Pair: share with their partner what they thought and why
    • Share: select 2-3 students to share what their partner said


  • How can we use these variables to determine if a household is doing better over time?
    • Exemplar answer:
      • “We can see a household performed in 2010 and compare it to how it performed in 2019.  We can see if it went up or down.”
    • Scaffold:
      • How does your mother know if you’ve grown taller?  What do she have to do?
        • “She has to measure how tall I am.”  WHEN does she have to measure you?
        • “When I was younger and now”  HOW many times did she have to measure you?
        • “2 times”  The same time?
        • “2 different times”  A day later?  A month later?  A week later?
        • “Sometimes months or a year later”  Ok, so how can we use these variables to determine if a household is doing better over time?

Step 6: (Share It) Students select which variables they want to use to measure household performance over time

  • In the same google slide:
    • students independently select 3 or 4 variables from the data set to evaluate household performance
      • Must provide reasoning why those 3 or 4 and not the remaining 2 variables
      • Students fill out a table with the following information:
        • Variable, reason why selected
      •  Students should be ready to share why they did not select the 2 others
  • Pair students, share with partner: “Why did you choose your variables and not the other 2?”
  • Share full class: Students provide reasoning

Step 7: Push their thinking and ask what their selection of variables says about what they think is important

[Have students share out on their padlet digital board]

  • Select 2-3 students to share what they thought it says about what they value.
  • Push their thinking with an extension question: What other variables would you liked to have data on?

Step 8: Stamp Lesson and End


  • Today, we planned a research strategy by selecting a set of variables that we think best determine whether a family household is better or worse over time
  • Tomorrow we will create samples from our data to determine what types of samples are useful when executing a research strategy using numerical data

Google Slides Setup Instructions:

  • Each student should have 3 slides assigned to them

Slide 1:  Variable Names and Descriptions

What are the variables available in the American Community Survey of 5 states?
Variable Name Descriptions 

(in your own words)

Data Type

(numerical or categorical)


Slide 2:  Students select the variables they want to use for analysis

Select 3 or 4 variables for your research and analysis
Variable Reason Selected
What were the variables you chose NOT to use for analysis?
Why did you not choose the other available variables?


Slide 3: Variables Chosen and Values by Time Period


What state will you write a report on? ________________



Time Period 1:

Beginning Year: _________

Time Period 2

End Year: _________




In this activity, students plan a research strategy to answer a real question using real credible data from the US Census Bureau. They use digital boards to brainstorm and share. They use google slides so that the teacher can monitor student comprehension, and students also collaborate and sharpen each other's irons.

EdTech used in this activity:


Alternative Ed Tech you could use:

Google Slides, Google Sheets