Analyzing the Religious Landscape at Our School

In my last post, I mentioned that this year I wanted my students to feel like they were doing something to build community in our classroom. I thought about our school, which is known for its diverse student body, and I thought about how little we actually know about the religious representation there. I know, anecdotally, that we have Sikh students and Hindu students, a variety of Catholics, Christians, Muslims, and Jews. They’ve showed up in my classroom and shared over the years. But what does that picture really look like?

Public schools don’t regularly collect data on religion, so I set out to have my students do the legwork. Now, I am not a statistics teacher, but I’m going to state with a 95% confidence interval that the way we organized this study was not scientific. It probably would have been improved if we used the internet to administer the survey, both in improving our numbers of respondents and preserving anonymity. But I wanted my kids to learn to have polite conversations about religion with others, and also, I wanted ot give them a chance to stretch their legs. 90 minutes of class is a long time.

So I we surveyed ourselves, as a class, and then sent them off in groups to interview anyone they could that wasn’t working or in class at the time. In total they surveyed 176 folks, so less than 10% of our school population of students and staff. Again, probably not data that would be usable in a research study. But it was good enough for us!

After returning with the data, I gave the kids the following assignment:

Newscast: How can we promote religious understanding at our school?

  • Your team will have 1 set of statistics to use as a basis for your newscast.
  • Compile the information—what headline can you write based on this information?
  • Develop a script that is 1-2 minutes long addressing the question above and incorporating the statistics that you found.

–If you would like a chart in your news background, let Ms. H know.

–You may have 1 or 2 news anchors on screen.

–Practice! Be prepared to read it for the camera and turn in a draft of your script.

After some practice working with statistics in order to pull out meaningful information–we used the Pew Religious Landscape Maps for that–the kids got to work on their own scripts for the news.

The backdrop. A student pointed out we might have some copyright issues. I hope NBC has bigger fish to fry.

The backdrop. A student pointed out we might have some copyright issues. I hope NBC has bigger fish to fry.

The kids presented their scripts in front of a news backdrop I projected onto the whiteboard, and we recorded a few. They also worked on graphs that they could use to support their key points. While, again, the numbers are a little sketchy, some of the conclusions that they drew to support their points were awesome.

Check out the stats in the gallery below. The kids noted that while a large majority of the population identified as Christian, that we had great diversity both among Christians and among the other religions mentioned. They also pointed out that we have a lot of students who said they strongly believed in a higher power. In their newscasts, they tried to promote using those strong feelings as a point of connection and encouraging dialogue between the groups. I’m hopeful we can think of some ways to put their plans into action in the future.

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I learned a lot from trying out this new lesson–mostly that in the future I would take more time! The kids struggled, in some cases, to connect the numbers to a meaningful story about the climate at Jordan. Groups that I encouraged to include graphs and personal interviews created better final products and drew more meaningful conclusions from their numbers.

Have you ever done this kind of research in a social studies class? It was tougher than I thought! I’d love to hear about your experiences.