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Data Interpretation Lesson

Social Studies Lessons for High School is designed for social studies teachers to use with their government and history courses. It was developed in response to a shift in education throughout our country: a move away from rote memorization and toward the critical thinking skills necessary for many of the new performance assessment programs.

Each lesson will enable teachers to teach seven specific critical thinking skills in a step-by-step process. The information has been adapted for old media and new media formats. Web sites will be provided that will allow teachers to choose the most appropriate resource for the selected activity. All selections can be copied for classroom use. Teachers may adapt activities to allow students to complete assignments via the web.

Bob Black is former Teachers Network web mentor. He is a social studies teacher at the Harbor City Learning Center, located across the street from the historic Edgar Allen Poe House  in Baltimore, MD.

Lesson Plan

Students will explain the influence of demographic changes on government policies.

Students will gather, manage, and convey information using a variety of skills, resources, and technologies.

Lesson Objectives 
Students will be able to:
  • Analyze graphs to evaluate the impact changing age demographics will have on the Social Security program.
  • Assess current Congressional legislation intended to address the Social Security crisis.

Have a copy of an employee's pay stub on a transparency. Ask students "Who is this Mr. FICA and what is he doing to you?" Conclude by asking students where they think this money is going.

Lesson Procedures
  1. Define demographics and factors that influence them (i.e., gender, age, race, religion and population).
  2. Show students the Life Expectancy Graph and give them the Data Interpretation Template to complete. Review student responses and any questions that they have.
  3. Write the following statement on the board: "In 1990 Social Security faced a severe cash shortage as outgoing payments rose faster than incoming payroll taxes." Have students hypothesize why this occurred based on their data interpretation. Ask the students how this could possibly impact them or their families.
  4. Place students in cooperative groups and have them use classroom texts and news magazines to locate information on Congressional efforts to address the Social Security crisis. Ask each group to propose a solution.

Have students write their proposed plan on a large sheet of paper to share with the class. Have students vote on the most "sound" solution to the problem and explain their choice. Send a copy of the class proposal to their Congressional representative.


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