Counting Canadians

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:

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

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. Using this method, students will examine, create and interpret data of a very different kind as they answer the question "What is life like for us?"

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:

If you wish to keep the project small, you can collect data from only your class, or from one or two others in the school. If you set up a telecollaborative project involving two or more schools, you can collect data from many parts of Canada. You will 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 winter count
In early Canada, a winter count 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 winter count as one way to answer the question "What is life like for us?" Each month, your class must decide on the most important event of the month to record and choose a picture to represent that event.

Jean Talon does a count
When Jean Talon did the first count of New France in the winter of 1665, he was interested in quite different things from the kinds of events that might have been painted on a winter count 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.

Count yourself in
Statistics Canada has been collecting information about the lives of Canadians for many years. In this section, students learn to think like statisticians as they answer the question "What is life like for us?" They conduct a census of students of their age. That means devising a survey questionnaire, administering it, and tallying and interpreting the results.

As they paint a picture of the life of a student their age, they compare that picture with the national portrait of Canadian life available through the Canada Year Book 2007 and the Statistics Canada website.