Activity: Population Implosion

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Here’s an activity I put together for my World Geography students, who are currently completing an outcome that asks them to analyze issues countries face when population growth rates decline significantly. This situation is called the birth dearth, and is becoming more and more common in developed or highly globalized countries, but will also be experienced by emerging economies in the coming decades.

This activity scaffolds analytical skills and starts with the lowest level of learning, or knowledge, which is addressed through students finding the definitions of key terminology requires for a discussion of population implosion. From here, they delve a little deeper and explore how quality of life may be affected in countries with low fertility rates (i.e., changing family structures, aging populations, labour shortages, etc.).

This is where the activity gets fun: students are given three sources and are asked to interpret the sources to determine predicted population problems for the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. The idea here, as question number 3 shows, is that students should determine the consequences of declining birth rates on quality of life. Once they have completed this, they are asked to use the knowledge they have gained thus far to suggest possible responses to these population problems. Finally, they should select one of these responses that they feel would be the most effective and justify this choice with a reasoned argument.

I think that these are the kinds of tasks that challenge students and require more than rote memorization of content. Such tasks build critical thinking and problem-solving skills, which should be at the root of any social studies curriculum. These kinds of skills, through a task such as this activity, can be easily transferred to a test or exam format.

Teaching World Population Growth Trends

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I’ve found in my teaching of geography that one of the best ways to begin a new topic that requires some level of background knowledge is to use minimal lecturing and instead use an activity to get students thinking. In particular, an activity that has students use data to draw simple conclusions about a condition or situation is useful in achieving this goal.

Here is how I tackled introducing a unit on population issues with my Level 3 World Geography students.

The purpose of the outcome is stated clearly at the top of the page and, while this is something students will learn to do over the course of a few classes and they may not yet “be there” in terms of knowledge, the activity sets them in the right direction.

Understanding data and using it to draw conclusions, fuel future learning, and scaffold inquiry is an important part of social studies education. Here students use historical population data to plot a line graph illustrating trends over the last 2,000 years.

The second side of the page is dedicated to early analysis of the data that allows students to determine for themselves two primary population trends:

  1. a population explosion occurred globally after 1600, and
  2. since 1980, global population growth has begun to slow down.

These inferences from the data then allow students the opportunity to brainstorm reasons why population might increase or decrease, and how these changes can influence quality of life. These factors are the meat of the early part of the unit and will eventually lead into an exploration of possible responses to issues resulting from population change.

Inquiry: UN Sustainable Development Goals

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In World Geography 3202, my class recently covered a section on development of nations that includes discussion of measures used to determine relative levels of development around the world.

Development Outcomes

Source: World Geography 3202 Curriculum Guide (2004)

As can be seen from the unit outcome above, most of the emphasis here is on economic indicators of development, with five out of seven delineations specifically involving this content. It is important to realize, however, that while economic development is certainly important social development indicators are vital as well. What’s more, there is nothing in the outcome here that has students explore how a country may work towards improving its level of development and assessing challenges that may exist in doing so. I feel that, though it’s technically not in the outcomes, it’s important for students to explore this in order to gain a better understanding of the topic as a whole.

un_sdg_logoOne activity I had my class try was to do a little research on what goals have been set internationally to address socio-economic problems and, therefore, increase quality of life globally. To do this, students engaged in a controlled inquiry of the UN Sustainable Development Goals for the purpose of discovering what challenges the UN has identified as needing immediate attention and what is actually involved in doing so (it’s easy to say poverty should be wiped out, but what is involved in making that happen?). The activity sheet looked as follows (click to download):

5.7 UN Sustainable Development Goals

Due to time restraints and the fact that I didn’t want to stray too far from the outcomes for this course, this isn’t as indepth an exploration as I would like. I would also like to expand it to include assessment of significance and student judgement of which issues they would consider the most important to tackle by developing criteria to do so. What it does provide, however, is an opportunity for students to research content related to course material that is much more updated than what is provided in the student resource (before this activity, there would be mention of the UN Millennium Goals, the timeframe for which elapsed last year).

The activity is open enough to allow students to collect information on the Sustainable Development Goals, while picking and choosing details that they feel to be the most interesting to them. In column two, they must provide at least two details for each goal (most goals have at least six or seven), so there is some choice on their part and they must question and use their own judgement, informally, to determine which they will focus on.

In a course that desperately needs updating (it places far too much importance on knowledge and memorization over higher level competencies) and a shift of focus to increase relevancy, this kind of short activity can add a little bit more to how students experience the curriculum. It’s a small example of how the teacher can bring the inquiry model into the classroom. Most students enjoyed the activity and were quite engaged during the inquiry process.