Where Did They Come From?

Social Studies/Mathematics

Students will analyze data and create a bar graph showing the home states of U.S. Presidents.

Background

Throughout American history, the home states of presidential candidates have played a large role in their identity and in the calculations that go into assessing their chances of being elected. Several Presidents are claimed by more than one state. This activity looks at Presidents' home states at the time of their inauguration (rather than at the time of their birth).

What You Need

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What to Do

  1. Ask students if they know which state has produced the most Presidents. Discuss what it means to be “from” a state. The state you are “from” could be the state where you are born, or it could be the state where you live now, if you have moved to a different state since you were born.
  2. Explain that for this activity, they will be looking at the states where the Presidents lived at the time they were elected to the Presidency.
  3. Have them guess which state produced the most Presidents. Ask them the reasons for their guesses. Write their guesses on the board.
  4. Tell students they are going to make graphs that show how many Presidents have come from each state.
  5. Divide students into groups. Give each group a copy of the Presidents of the United States of America information sheet, graph paper, and colored writing tools. If you prefer, you can have students research the Presidents' home states rather than giving them the information sheet. (If students ask, tell them not to count Grover Cleveland twice, even though he was both our 22nd and 24th President.)
  6. Have students tally the Presidents' home states. Then each group should make a bar graph showing how many Presidents came from each state.
  7. Have each group answer the questions on the worksheet. (New York produced eight Presidents; New York is one of the oldest states; it has a large population; it is a center of business, which means many influential people move there and live there. Ohio produced six Presidents.) See Presidents' Home States Data for a complete tally.
  8. Discuss the results. Were your students surprised? Did they guess the correct state?

Teaching Options

  1. Print and copy the United States: Postal Abbreviations (PDF file).
  2. Have students shade in the states, using a color code to indicate how many Presidents came from each one (e.g., 1–2 Presidents = yellow, 3–4 Presidents = blue, 5–6 Presidents = orange, 7–8 Presidents = purple, 9–10 Presidents = red).
  3. Ask students to compare the map and the graph. What kind of information does each show best? (It is probably easier to compare numbers by using the bar graph, but the map shows which regions have produced the most Presidents.)
  4. Discuss other questions you might have about the Presidents, and consider which graphical representations would be best to answer the questions.