Thank you for your interest in NCTM’s Illuminations. Beginning in mid-April, all Illuminations content will be moving to Interactives will remain openly available and NCTM members will have access to all Illuminations lessons with new filtering and search options. We hope you will continue to utilize and enjoy these resources on

Pin it!
Google Plus

Spreadsheets and Census Data

Data Analysis and Probability
Grace M. Burton
Location: unknown

Students organize the data collected about county populations into a spreadsheet and create a graph to help them better understand the data.

Students will need their completed What Counties Are Your Favorite? Activity Sheets from the previous lesson. Each student will need his or her own computer.

pdficonWhat Counties Are Your Favorite? Activity Sheet 

To begin the lesson, ask students if they know what a spreadsheet is and what its purpose is. Sample responses may include:

  • A way of organizing data
  • A tool for sorting data
  • A tool for creating graphs

Ask students why they would want to enter the population data from their 10 counties into a spreadsheet. Students may give responses similar to those above.

Students should then open a spreadsheet program, such as Microsoft Excel. In the first column, they can, cell by cell, enter the names of the 10 counties. In the second column, they can, cell by cell, enter the populations. Students should be encouraged to save their work often.

Once students have entered their data into the spreadsheet, ask them which type of graph would be the best way to display the data. Most students will likely select a (vertical) bar graph. Demonstrate to students how to create a graph to display their. Highlight the fact that the actual data has not changed, just the way it is being displayed. This final product should be printed. Teacher Note: This printout should be brought back for the next lesson.

Students can exchange their graphs and make verbal comments and observations about their partners' graphs.

Returning to the actual spreadsheet of data, you may wish to have students experiment with some of the functions. For example, students can use the Sort feature to organize the population data from least to greatest or greatest to least.

Assessment Option 

After students have printed their graphs, they could write a brief (2-3 sentence) summary of any observations they have made about their data.


  1. Students may wish to research a specific county's population data for several censuses and create a line graph of that data. They can note any observations and draw conclusions about the data.
  2. Students may use the Bar Grapher tool to graph their data, and compare the features of the Bar Grapher with a spreadsheet.
    appiconBar Grapher 
  3. Move on to the last lesson, Comparing Counties.

Questions for Students 

1. How does your graph help you see the differences in the populations?

[Students might say that the heights of each of the bars helps them visualize the differences.]

2. What is another way you could represent your specific data?

[Students' responses may vary, but some students may suggest horizontal bar graph or a simple chart.]

Teacher Reflection 

  • Were students able to use a spreadsheet effectively?
  • Were students able to draw appropriate conclusions from their data once it was presented in graph form?
Data Analysis and Probability

Exploring Our County

Students access and investigate data using the World Wide Web. Students take part in a scavenger hunt as they gather and analyze U.S. Census data.
Data Analysis and Probability

What Counties Are Your Favorite?

Students use their knowledge from the previous lesson to gather data on ten of their favorite counties (places they might like to live, visit, etc.) within a specific state. Students will hone their place value skills by representing numbers in various ways including standard, written, and expanded form.
Data Analysis and Probability

Comparing Counties


Students use the data from previous lessons to find the range, median, and mode of the populations. They then compare their data with their partner's data.

As a culminating activity, this lesson combines the data and activities performed during this unit. Students are involved in class discussions and comparisons of the population data.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Enter U.S. Census Data into a spreadsheet.
  • Create a graph of their data.

NCTM Standards and Expectations

  • Represent data using tables and graphs such as line plots, bar graphs, and line graphs.

Common Core State Standards – Mathematics

Grade 3, Measurement & Data

  • CCSS.Math.Content.3.MD.B.3
    Draw a scaled picture graph and a scaled bar graph to represent a data set with several categories. Solve one- and two-step ''how many more'' and ''how many less'' problems using information presented in scaled bar graphs. For example, draw a bar graph in which each square in the bar graph might represent 5 pets.