• 1. Build background about population density.

    Explain to students that population density describes the number of individuals occupying an area in relation to the size of that area. Tell students that there is a formula for figuring out population density:


    number of people ÷ the area they occupy = population density


    Explain to students that geographers focus on the spatial distribution of population density at different levels of scale: local, state or province, national, and global. Ask: What is a reliable source of population data at the national level? (U.S. Census)

    2. Discuss the U.S. Census and how the collected data is used.

    Explain to students that the U.S. Constitution mandates a count of everyone living in the United States every 10 years. Ask: Why might it be helpful to have a reliable estimation of the U.S. population? Provide students with a real-world example, such as deciding where to build new roads and schools. Elicit from students that having a reliable estimation makes it possible to make decisions about what community services to provide. Tell students that it also helps to determine the number of seats each state has in Congress, and more.

    3. Display the U.S. and World Population Clocks on the U.S. Census Bureau website.
    Go to the U.S. Census Bureau website and display the U.S. and World Population Clocks. Tell students the numbers are updated once per minute. Ask: Are there more or less people in the United States than you thought? In the world? How many of them do you think live in your state?

    4. Have students use the Data Finders section to calculate the population density for their state.

    Remind students of the formula for figuring out population density:


    number of people ÷ the area they occupy = population density


    Have students use the Population Finder and Find an Area Profile on the U.S. Census Bureau website to choose their state and view its QuickFacts. Students should find the information they need to calculate the population density for their state:

    • Population estimate = number of people
    • Land area (in square miles) = the area they occupy

    Have students compare answers.

    Extending the Learning

    Have students refer to a world map or atlas and list five countries that they think are the world’s most populated countries.  Then have them list five countries that they think are the world’s least populated countries.  Discuss answers as a class. Vote on the top 5 in each category. Then have students check their answers at the U.S. Census Bureau’s International Data Base.

  • Subjects & Disciplines

    Learning Objectives

    Students will:

    • explain the formula for calculating population density
    • describe what the U.S. Census does and how the data is used
    • calculate the population density for their state

    Teaching Approach

    • Learning-for-use

    Teaching Methods

    • Discussions
    • Hands-on learning

    Skills Summary

    This activity targets the following skills:


    National Standards, Principles, and Practices

    National Council for Social Studies Curriculum Standards

    • Theme 3:  People, Places, and Environments

    National Geography Standards

    • Standard 9:  The characteristics, distribution, and migration of human populations on Earth's surface
  • What You’ll Need

    Materials You Provide

    • Paper
    • Pencils
    • Pens

    Required Technology

    • Internet Access: Required
    • Tech Setup: 1 computer per classroom, Projector

    Physical Space

    • Classroom

    Grouping

    • Large-group instruction
  • Background Information

    Population density describes the number of individuals occupying an area in relation to the size of the area they occupy. The U.S. Census Bureau serves as the leading source of quality data about the nation's people and economy.


    Prior Knowledge

    • None

    Recommended Prior Activities


    Vocabulary

    Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    area Noun

    a geographic region.

    Encyclopedic Entry: area
    census Noun

    program of a nation, state, or other region that counts the population and usually gives its characteristics, such as age and gender.

    Encyclopedic Entry: census
    global Adjective

    worldwide.

    local Adjective

    having to do with the area around a specific place.

    population Noun

    total number of people or organisms in a particular area.

    population density Noun

    the number of people living in a set area, such as a square mile.

    For Further Exploration

    Articles & Profiles

    Audio & Video

    Websites