"What is life like for Canadian students today?"

The question, "What is life like for us?" lies at the heart of statistics. Since the beginning of time, people have kept records in the form of pictures, words and numbers in order to tell others how they live and what is important to them. Answering this question raises four fundamental issues:

  • What counts? That is, what is important enough to collect data about?
  • How do we count? That is, how do we collect and interpret information about people's lives?
  • Who counts? That is, what perspectives are in play when any individual, a group, or a government decides to collect data?
  • Why count or record data at all? That is, what is the human impulse that leads us to want to tell others what our lives are like, to explore the lives of others, and to connect the way things were with the way things are?

This project gives your students the chance to explore the heart root of statistics in three ways:

  • Using Statistic Canada's historical data, they will trace the roots of the census in Canada. By looking at a time that is very different from their own, they will explore what the results of the 1665 Census tell us about life in New France. They will come to understand the political and economic importance of the systematic collection of census data.
  • Using Using Statistic Canada's E-Stat site and the Canada Yearbook 2001, your students will explore 1996 census data that paints a picture of how Canadians over the age of 15 live today.
  • Collecting their own data, they will create their own picture of what life is like for them and compare this with the national data

Your students will also develop an awareness of the stories that statistics can—and cannot—tell by exploring the Winter Count of Plains aboriginal people.  Asking the same question, "What is life like for us?" students will examine, create and interpret data of a very different kind.

Suggestions for Use

There are a number of ways to use this study.  You can adapt it to the curriculum areas of most interest to you, and to the particular age of your students.  Students from Grade 3 to Grade 12 could explore these materials and ideas with appropriate guidance and adaptations.  You can use this project

  • as part of a study of Canadian history and culture.  For example,
    • Explorers and life in early Canada
    • Aboriginal peoples of Canada
    • Sociology
  • As part of a novel study.  Lois Lowry’s Gathering Blue (Houghton Mifflin, 2000) raises many of the fundamental questions on which this whole project is based.  Suggested reading level is ages 9 – 12.
  • As part of a statistics unit, where you will have students work with real data sets
  • As part of an investigation of the difference between qualitative and quantitative research

If you wish to keep the project small, you can collect data from only your class, or one or two others in the school.  If you set up a telecollaborative project involving 2 or more schools, you could collect data from many parts of Canada.  You would need to decide early on in your planning how big you want this project to become.  Managing a telecollaborative project takes time and attention—but it is well worth the effort.

Project Components:

Virtual Wintercount

Jean Talon Does a Count

Count Yourself In

In early Canada, a wintercount was a way for members of a tribe to decide what was most important to them each year. They would make a drawing to represent the event they decided to record. We will borrow the idea of a wintercount as one way to answer the question, "What is school like?" Each month, your class must decide what is the most important event of the month to record, and you will also choose a picture to represent that event.

When Jean Talon did the first count of Europeans in the winter of 1665, he was interested in quite different things than the kinds of events that might have been painted on a wintercount skin. Look at the kinds of things he decided to count. These became the categories for Canada's first census.

Jean Talon began a process that governments still follow today. When we want to find out what life is like in a community, we can count things that we think are important. It's quite a different way of telling a story, and it's another way of painting a picture for others.

Statistics Canada has been collecting information about the lives of Canadians for more than 300 years. In this section, students learn to think like statisticians as explore the question, "What is life like for us today?" They conduct a census of students of their age. That means devising survey questionnaires, administering them, and tallying and interpreting the results.

As they paint the picture of life fora student of their age, they compare that picture with the national portrait of life in Canada available through Canada 2001 and the Statistics Canada website.

© 2001 Galileo Educational Network Association™