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Paula Don wanted her students to know how the data that will be compiled for the 2000 U.S. Census could determine future funding for their community.

Because she is a firm believer in hands-on learning, the former computer science teacher at G.W. Childs Elementary School in Philadelphia decided to have the students conduct their own census count.

"I thought that if we did a pet census, [the students] would be able to relate, and to see numbers that make sense," said Ms. Don, who now works as a technology facilitator for the Philadelphia school system.

They started the project last July, when Ms. Don's 4th graders at G.W. Childs wrote a pet questionnaire for the 10 schools from Philadelphia, California, New York, and Rhode Island that were the original participants.

Now schools from 35 states are taking part in the project, "along with Canada and South Africa, and we still have people begging to sign up," Ms. Don said.

As more schools are added, she updates the World Wide Web site at

And as finished data are e-mailed to Ms. Don, she displays the findings on the pet-census site, which is hosted by the Philadelphia school district.

"The teachers are organizing it in different ways. One 1st grade teacher had kids go to every single classroom in their school to collect data," Ms. Don said.

"One school in the Midwest concluded that people in urban areas had more expensive [breeds of] pets," she said.

A group of Mexican-American students in Southern California wanted their chickens included in the census, so their class decided that any animal given a name can and should be counted as a pet.

"I didn't think it would go this far," Ms. Don said. Although she hoped to end the project in February, Ms. Don now promises to keep tabulating until May.

Mark Jennings

Vol. 19, Issue 27, Page 3

Published in Print: March 15, 2000, as Take Note

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