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.