As Simple as Beans: Canada’s Population
Submitted by: Jennifer Dawson
Date: July 14, 2010
Students participate in a bean activity that illustrates the population distribution of Canada, create a map illustrating the
population distribution of Canada, and finally provide written and oral map explanations related to the themes of
location, climate, and natural resources. As available, students watch a Vancouver 2010 video clip that highlights the
importance of our neighbor to the north [“Tom Brokaw Explains Canada to Americans!” at www.k12studycanada.org.
Social Studies, Geography, Economics
120 minutes (two 55-60 minute sessions)
The goal is twofold: for students to gain an introductory understanding of the importance of studying Canada AND to
understand how Canada’s location, climate, and natural resources affect where people live, work, and trade.
The student will:
• explain the impact of location, climate, distribution of natural resources, and population distribution on Canada
• describe how Canada’s location, climate, and natural resources have affected where people live
• describe how Canada’s location, climate, and natural resources impact trade
• understand the importance of Canada to the United States based on relative location
This lesson meets district and state standards (Georgia) and is aligned to NCSS Thematic Strands in Social Studies
under People, Places, and Environment:
• LOCATION: The student will understand that location affects a society’s economy, culture, and development.
• HUMAN ENVIRONMENT INTERACTION: The student will understand that humans, their society, and the
environment affect each other.
• PRODUCTION, DISTRIBUTION AND CONSUMPTION: The student will understand that the production,
distribution, and consumption of goods/services produced by the society are affected by the location, customs,
beliefs, and laws of the society.
In the class period(s) before this lesson, a general introduction to Canada is suggested. Since this is an introductory
lesson, student background information is not required with the exception of basic North American geography.
The following links are provided for teacher preparation and research:
• Population density map [NB: Print in color. Close the text box & print in landscape format including paragraph below map]:
• Population distribution map:
• Real-time Estimated Population Clocks:
http://www.census.gov/main/www/popclock.html (US & World)
• Poster-size political map of North America (or U.S. & Canada) – approximately 17”x22”
• Open area in classroom/hallway or large table (with enough room for class members to gather around) – The floor
works well because the teacher and some students can sit around the map, more students can kneel behind, and
remaining students can stand behind.
• Package of dry beans
• Bowl for beans
• Class set of bathroom or kitchen paper/plastic cups
• Pencil & masking tape
• Student copies of blank Canada map (Blank outline map: www.statcan.gc.ca/edu/zone/m/edu02a5_0001-eng.pdf)
• Sticky notes (preferable super-sticky flowers)
• LCD projector
• Computer access
• Video segment: “Tom Brokaw Explains Canada to Americans” (with both Internet & You Tube access or
downloaded file prior to lesson) at www.k12studycanada.org and/or www.tribute.ca/news/index.php/tom-brokaw-
explains-canada-to-americans/2010/02/24/ and/or http://russ-campbell.blogspot.com/2010/03/tom-brokaw-
1. Secure an open area in classroom or hallway (see materials). Alternatively, use a large table (with enough room
for class members to gather around).
2. Use a flat poster-sized political map of North America for this learning activity. Place map on floor or large table.
3. Prior to class fill a bowl with dry beans.
4. Give each student a small cup (to hold beans).
5. Divide 300 by the number of students actually present in EACH class on the day of this learning activity. In a class
of 30 students, each student would take10 beans, etc.
6. Each student counts out this class specific number of beans in a cup. (Students either carefully pass around the
bowl or come to one central location to count out beans.)
7. The following steps contain both procedures and information useful for teacher commentary while facilitating the
8. Tell students the 300 beans represent the total population of the two countries.
9. Have students put all but 33 of the total beans in the Unites States. In a class of 30, all students (except three)
would put nine of their beans in the United States. Encourage students to think about how to distribute the bean
population. For example, more beans should be placed near large cities in the Midwest and Northeast Corridor
and fewer beans in the deserts. Make sure beans are placed in Alaska and Hawaii (but proportionately). Some
students may try to put many beans in Alaska because of “bean overcrowding” in the continental US.
10. Because beans become so crowded on the U.S. portion of the map, temporary dividers are helpful as students are
placing beans on map. One solution is a pencil to mark the relatively straight and largest portion of the US/Canada
border. For other border areas, use masking tape rolled into flexible “sticks” that can be broken and shaped along
eastern portions of US/Canada border, Alaska border, and U.S./Mexico border.
11. Next have students place all but three of the “Canada” beans within approximately ½ inch of the southern
Canadian border. The final three beans should be spread out over the other parts of Canada. Depending on the
nature of the class, the teacher or students can use broken beans to distribute the three beans out over the vast
area. Before leading a discussion, make sure beans somewhat reflect population centers or slide some of the
“border” beans into those more concentrated areas. Although Canada has more land than the Unites States, it has
only about 1/10th (11%) as many people. However, 90% of Canada’s people live within 100 miles of the nation’s
12. Ask guiding questions to facilitate a student discussion of possible reasons why Canada’s population is
concentrated heavily along the southern border.
13. As students return to seats, collect the beans and cups for use in other class periods.
14. Allow students to compare the bean map with population distribution &/or density maps.
1. Following the activity, students will use blanks maps to create individual population distribution maps of
Canada. The map creation can be done as homework or in-class. Students locate the Canada’s major cities
and important physical features on an outline map.
2. Using information gained in the bean activity and available maps students will shade or color the individual
maps to show heavier concentrations of population. Student maps should be general in nature and should
NOT be duplications of a map in the book or from the reference links. Explicit student guidelines:
Shade/color/code in some manner an approximate population map based on your experience, observations, &
conclusions today with beans & the Canada/US map combined with an actual population density or distribution
map (see suggested links). Include a key to explain your shading/coloring/coding. The major cities you’ve
already placed on the map should be helpful! Be prepared to explain your map!!
3. Note to teacher: Some students may be resistant to an open-ended map assignment as copying a map
“seems” easier. However, it is crucial that they try even if they don't completely understand generalizing by
“creating without copying.” It might seem challenging at first because this requires analysis and critical thought
rather than simply copying a map. As long as an individual student puts forth a real effort, give them “credit” for
the map portion of the assignment. The main tool for evaluation (and grading) will be the written response.
Time factor is a major clue of whether students are making a generalized map and unique key (which shows
understanding of the concept). Making a generalized map and key takes less time whereas copying a map
takes much more time (but shows less understanding).
4. After students have created individual maps illustrating the most heavily populated areas, facilitate a
discussion about why people live in certain regions and why other regions are so sparsely populated. Point
out the regions of Canada that are so sparsely populated in relation to tundra and permafrost.
5. Provide each student a super-sticky note (a flower allows for re-enforcement of the limited types vegetation
that can grow in the tundra & permafrost areas in northern Canada).
6. Each student will write a paragraph explaining why certain areas are so heavily populated and other are so
sparsely populated related to climate, trade and natural resources.
7. Upon completion of the paragraph, student will place sticky note in blank area above Canada’s outline on map.
1. Students will use blanks maps to create individual population maps of Canada.
2. Students will write a paragraph explaining why certain areas are so heavily populated and others are so sparsely
3. The primary graded evaluation for this assignment comes from the detailed explanation on the sticky note (rather
than the map). There should be evidence in the explanation of multiple factors influencing Canada’s population
distribution & density. Multiple factors addressed should include climate, trade, and natural resources.
4. Teacher will make informal observations of responses and conclusions during the activity, debriefing, and sharing
Possible Extension/Wrap-Up/Additional Notes:
• As available, after the bean activity show the video segment aired by NBC immediately preceding the Vancouver
2010 Opening Ceremonies entitled : “Tom Brokaw Explains Canada to Americans” (w/Internet access or
downloaded prior to lesson).
• By using sticky notes, students are forced to be both concise AND to write more that a simplistic sentence.
• Student maps with exemplary explanations may be displayed for further reinforcement of the concepts.
• In addition to the map detailed in procedures, students can include climate regions and/or natural resources on the
outline map and key.