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Runaway Journeys
Trusting Statistics Lesson Plan
"The consequences of Migration" section of the Runaway Journeys narrative suggests that many of the official reports were not entirely on target. Students will conduct a survey of their choosing to gain a set of statistics. After they are done, they will proceed to question their statistics: What sorts of circumstances would make a person not answer truthfully? What would keep the statistics from being accurate? In "Consequences of the Migration," statistics that were reported were not necessarily true.
Grade Levels: Middle and high school, grades 6-12
For use with:Runaway Journeys
Concentration Area:Social Studies: Economics
National Curriculum Standards met by this lesson
The following standards have been taken from the Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McRel) standards.
Students will understand

  • Ways slavery shaped social and economic life in the South after 1800 (e.g. how the cotton gin and the opening of new lands in the South and West led to increased demands for slaves; differences in the lives of plantation owners, poor free black and white families, and the enslaved; methods of passive and active resistance to slavery; escaped slaves and the Underground Railroad).
  • Different economic, cultural, and social characteristics of slavery after 1800 (e.g. the influence of the Haitian Revolution and the ending of the Atlantic slave trade, how the enslaved forged their own culture in the face of oppression, the role of the plantation system in shaping slaveholders and the enslaved, the experiences of escaped slaves).
  • Ways slavery influenced economic and social elements of Southern society (e.g., how slavery hindered the emergence of capitalist institutions and values, the influence of slavery on the development of the middle class, the influence of slave revolts on the lives of the enslaved and freed slaves).
  • The social and cultural influences of former slaves in cities of the North (e.g., their leadership of African American communities, how they advanced the rights and interests of African Americans).
  • Slavery before the Civil War (e.g., the importance of slavery as a principal cause of the Civil War, the growing influence of abolitionists, children's roles, and family life under slavery)
Time required
Two class periods
Materials needed
Anticipatory Set

  1. Pose the following questions in a class discussion:

    1. Do we always believe everything we see in print? What about on television?
    2. There are instances where we know we are not hearing the whole truth. But, what happens with historical evidence?
    3. The people who knew that the reported information was entirely accurate pass away as time goes on, leaving society with inaccurate reports. How can and how should people view historical documents?

  1. After they have read the section, "The Consequences of the Migration," have students discuss how statistics could be inaccurate. You can pose such questions as:

    1. What were the feelings at the time?
    2. Who asked the questions?
    3. How were they presented? Were the subjects' answers confidential?
    4. Could answers somehow be embarrassing to the subject?
    5. Could answers possibly give light to information the subject did not want known?
  2. Encourage the students to list as many reasons why statistics might be inaccurate as possible.
  3. Ask them to brainstorm ideas that can be used to write a survey. You should lead students to topics that are controversial to help yield results that might be more inaccurate.
  4. Ask students to consider what they want to learn from their survey and how they hope to implement it:

    1. Will they have it passed out in class? Post it online? Face to face survey?
    2. Who will they ask? Other students? Adults? Friends or strangers?
    3. What is their goal? Do they wish to try for accurate results?
    Allow students to try to create inaccurate surveys as well.
  5. Have students pair up to create a survey, then design the questions, and discuss how they will present it. Students should write up a hypothesis on what they expect to learn from their survey, including their goal in this paper. (Their goal may have nothing to do with the subject matter of the survey, but indicate the results they hope to attain or the accuracy of the results.)
  6. Let students give their surveys in the way they chose. If they choose online, they may use one of these free online survey clients. They will only allow for a certain number however (between 50-100):

    1. Survey
    2. Zoomerang:
  7. Tell student pairs to extrapolate information from the completed surveys. Have them create graphs and present to the class. They may choose to support a position that is not their own, and then explain how they gave their survey to get results they wanted. (For example: Does the student body want Tofu in the cafeteria? The surveyors ask only those students they know are vegetarians, thus skewing the results.)
  8. have students review their hypotheses, then write a conclusion explaining what they had done and how close they were to what they had suspected would occur.
  9. As students to look back at "The Consequences of the Migration." Using what they have learned about how surveys can be skewed, students will list what the original surveyors could have done to have such results. The essay should be able to explain the following questions:

    1. Who did the surveyors ask?
    2. How did they ask?
    3. What were the reasons people answering felt they couldn't be completely honest?
    4. Why would the surveyors want inaccurate results?
    5. Who answered the survey?
  10. You should also allow students to include questions that may not have answers that make it hard for us to judge the veracity of the statistic results, such as, how were the questions worded?
Related Works

  • Students can look at a modern article in the media and, using what they have learned about statistics, decide if they believe the statistics, or if they have been used inappropriately.
  • Interdisciplinary Links

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics:
  • Federal Statistics:
  • National Center for Education Statistics:
  • National Center for Health Statistics:
  • Census Bureau:
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