Historical figures in one minute

Curriculum Data Management
Grade 3 and 4

  • Collecting and organizing categorical data
  • Comparing two related sets of data
  • Displaying data using graphs
  • Selecting appropriate graphical representations


Students create a set of data to analyze issues of systemic inequality. The educator leads students in a full class discussion. Educators should also be aware of possible special sensitivity and awareness required due to how some students may feel in this kind of discussion.


  • pencils/pens and paper
  • chalk board, smart board or chart paper


  • Separate the class into groups of three or four students
  • Give the groups one minute to brainstorm as many famous people (dead or alive) as possible. They can be from any sector. Their list may include mathematicians, actors, scientists, athletes, artists, etc.


  • Bring the class together and ask each group to read their list of famous people aloud.
  • As students read the names, write them down so that each student can see the names. This will prevent any duplicate names.
  • Ask students what they notice about the list of people:
    • Do they notice any commonalities/differences among individuals?
      • For example, are there differences in gender? Age? Race/Ethnicity? Industry? Place of origin?
      • Ask students for their general impressions as to whether some groups are over- or under-represented in their list. Tell them they will be analyzing the differences more systematically using data analysis.
      • Students brainstorm different ways of categorizing the information. Divide into small groups and create graphs to represent the data based on one set of criteria. For example, they could graph the number of males and females, members of different ethnicities, etc. For each set of categories, calculate the relative proportions of each type using percentages and/or fractions.
  • Provide (or have students research) demographic information about the relative proportions of people in these categories, either in the world or in Canada. For example, what percentage of the general population is male? How many are East Asian? How do the relative proportions compare to the proportions of different people in the students’ original list?
  • Introduce issues of intersectionality. For example, what proportion of people on the list are women of colour?
  • Lead students in a discussion about why some groups appear to be over represented, while others remain severely under represented. Could it be a function of our own biases? Different access to opportunity, or access to different opportunities?  And so on. Do we have a limited view of fame? Are their other ways of being important in your society?
  • Conclude by repeating the original exercise, asking students to try to create a more balanced list this time. This is probably best done as a whole group because more ideas will be available.

Further Explorations/Extensions

  • To further explore proportional representation across a variety of categories in the general population, introduce students to the book If The World Were A Village and its associated website www.100people.org. The book offers a rich source of possibilities for data analysis of this type. The Statistical Society of Canada website Census At School offers the opportunity for students to compare numerous aspects of demographics with the rest of the country and then enter their data to create a broader picture of Canadian society.
  • Students can examine other kinds of over/under representations in mainstream culture. For example, how many protagonists in children’s picture books are white?
  • Have students research accomplishments among more marginalized or less commonly represented groups in our society. Challenge them to create a list that reflects the proportional representation of different groups in Canada/ Toronto/ the school/ the world.