7 billion

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Student will be able to 1) describe how historical events have influenced human population growth; 2) explain the most influential factors that currently contribute to continued population growth; 3) conduct research to provide compelling evidence for the impact of a specific factor on human population growth.

Big Idea

The human population on planet Earth has rapidly grown, recently passing 7 billion. How might we identify the factors that have contributed to this growth over time?

FRAME: Human population growth

How did the human population get so large? "7 Billion" is thematically similar to the previous "Spaceship Earth" lesson sequence. How have humans impacted the Earth? How has the Earth impacted humans? How can we find a balance? Whereas "Spaceship Earth" tackles the human population in the present, "7 Billion" examines the historical forces that have shaped the human population over time.

Students explore the idea of terraforming in the FLIPPED activity and build on ideas with an ENGAGE exploration of the data of human population growth over time. Students then examine a timeline of factors influencing human population growth. Finally, students check their understanding through an EVALUATE activity that asks students to complete the final slide of a human population growth timeline. By the end of this lesson successful students will have me the following objectives:

  1. describe how historical events have influenced human population growth
  2. explain the most influential factors that currently contribute to continued population growth
  3. conduct research to provide compelling evidence for the impact of a specific factor on human population growth.

STUDENT SAMPLE WORK NOTE: Unfortunately, student work for this lesson sequence was inadvertently discarded from the classroom during a school break. Because many of these activities were required visual representations of data, these assignments were distributed and collected as paper and electronically. Nearly all students opted for paper version; as such, there are few to no work samples for these lessons. However, analyses of trends in student work and associated adjustments to practice are included where relevant.

HUMAN DEMOGRAPHY SEQUENCING NOTE: For an overview of what students will learn about human demography and how this learning builds towards the CAPSTONE for this unit, see the outline below:

7 Billion : Students learn about factors that have influenced the growth of the human population over time.

Focus questions:

    1. How has the human population grown so large so quickly? 

Cemetery secrets: Students learn that modeling the survivorship of different human societies reveals that human demography data is heterogeneous. The "human population" is actually many human populations, separated by geography and time.

Focus questions:

    1. What data can we use to study populations of the past?
    2. How can we model the death rate of a population?

Human Population Pyramids: Students learn how to develop the population pyramid data visualization tool to formally represent an analyze the various human populations throughout the world. In this process, students develop an evidence-based understanding of how different population structures uniquely impact the Earth and how these unique impacts will become more or less intense over time.

Focus questions:

    1. How can we represent the essential demographic data of a human population using an elegant data visualization tool?
    2. What demographic information does the shape of a population pyramid reveal and how does this shape predict future a population' future growth?
    3. How might the population pyramids of countries be used to develop public policy?

Demographic Transition: Students learn about a model of how population change over time and use this model to describe how human populations will impact the Earth in the future.

Focus question:

    1. How do different rates of development within a country influence how specific human populations will impact the environment?

RESOURCE NOTE: The attached PROTOTYPE ACTIVITY GUIDE might be modified for classroom use.  

FLIPPED: Terraform

What is the purpose of this activity?

Students use the framework of limiting factors to develop a paragraph explaining why humans might need to one day terraform other planets.

What will students do for this FLIPPED assignment?

Humans develop a response to the prompt below as part of a FLIPPED assignment. This work is to be done BEFORE class.

Human beings are closer than ever to living on other planets. The American Pixar film WALL-E (2008) explores this idea with its portrayal of humans living in outer space because they have made Earth essentially uninhabitable. The more recent Interstellar (2014) follows a group of humans trying to escape a global crop disease by finding another planet capable of sustaining life. Common to both films is the idea that humans need to live on other planets because the human population is too large for Earth to support it any longer. This idea is not limited to fiction. The company SpaceX, as one example of many, is currently working to make space travel for humans commonplace. 

TERRAFORM is the term used to describe the process of making another planet more like Earth so that humans can live on it.

TASK: Watch the short animated film called Terraform to get an idea of what the process might look like. (The film is in French but there are subtitles.) Then develop a short paragraph describing why you think terraforming might one day be necessary. What are the recourses in this film that humans need to recreate? What are associated limiting factors on Earth that humans needed to overcome?

ENGAGE: 7 billion

15 minutes

What is the purpose of this activity?

Students build on ideas from the FLIPPED activity to develop ideas about how the human population has grown so large. Students share ideas and then compare them to an evidence-based narrative of human population growth. By the end of this section students should have developed an explanation of factors that have allowed the human population to grow and revised these narratives through comparison to a presentation of the data of human population growth over time.

What will students do?

First, students paraphrase the big idea and deeper learning question in the PROTOTYPE ACTIVITY GUIDE. Then, students silently develop a short written response to this prompt:

Humans have successfully colonized the world.  There are currently more than 7 billion people on the Earth.  What has allowed the human species to populate the world?  What are some of the impacts--both positive and negative--of this growth?

Next, students pass their responses to all group members for peer review and then each student group chooses one idea to share with the class.  Finally, the class will watch the embedded clip from NPR that describes how the human population has grown over time. Students revise their prompt responses based on the group share and NPR video content. 

What will teachers do?

Teachers should surface the mental models that students developed during the FLIPPED activity by explicitly connecting this ENGAGE activity to the thinking students have done about terraforming. Why might humans need to terraform Mars? A short discussion BEFORE the ENGAGE activity will be beneficial to students that may haves struggled to make meaning of the somewhat abstract FLIPPED short film. 

Additionally, students will need to revise short paragraphs with evidence from the NPR film. Teachers should push students to connect revisions to information presented in the film. The population grew faster is not sufficient. The population grew faster because advances in health care limited early deaths is.

EXPLORE + EXPLAIN: Human population timeline

30 minutes

What is the purpose of this section? 

Students explore a timeline of factors influencing human population growth in order to refine ideas about how human populations have grown over time. By the end of this section students should be able to connect one factor to the rate of human population growth. An example would be improved health care reduces the rate of death and therefore supports the rapid growth of human populations.

ATTRIBUTION NOTE: This portion of the lesson was adapted from Population Connection materials.

What will students do?

Students will complete the following tasks in collaborative groups:

TASK 1: Examine this timeline of factors that have influenced population growth.  First, read through each event on the timeline. As you read, think about how each event might have had an impact on population size. Also, be sure to note the “topic symbol” next to each event. The Topic Key can be found in the bottom left corner of the poster.

TASK 2: Once you have a feel for this poster, answer TWO of the questions below.  You are encouraged to collaborate with your team. 

1. The first transcontinental railroad in the U.S. was completed in 1869, allowing goods, food, and people to travel from coast to coast in a matter of days. In what ways might the transcontinental railroad have changed the lives of people living in that time? What other events on the timeline may have had a similar impact?

2. When birth rates are higher than death rates, a population grows. Knowing this, how do you think the Public Health Movement in Britain in 1840’s impacted population (hint: think about how this would affect death rates)? What other events on the timeline have improved our overall health and allowed us to live longer lives? Do you think improved health and nutrition might also have an impact on birth rates?

3. Which events on the timeline do you think lead to an increase in death rates?

4. Can you find technological advances from our earlier history that had consequences (either intended or unintended) in our later history? How are these events related? (For , production of the Ford Model-T could be related to the raising of surface sea temperatures that has led to coral bleaching.)

5. Which events at the end of the timeline, if any, might have an impact on our population in the future?

TASK 3: Each group will present findings for no more than 30 seconds.

What will teachers do?

Students may need help navigating the timeline. One strategy is to model the entire process first using an example that aligns one of the questions to be answered. This model can then become the topic for groups that need the most support.

Students will also need assistance with organization and pacing. Teachers should assign each group a topic and should push student groups to begin answering questions after 15 minutes at the latest. This is an open-ended exploration and students should have time to explore; however, this exploration needs to be constrained. The goal is not for students to develop a comprehensive understanding of the timeline of human growth. Rather, it is for students to be able to connect one factor that has impacted the rate of human growth. 

ELABORATE: The slideshow challenge

10 minutes

What is the purpose of this section?

Students assess understanding of factors impacting human population growth by predicting what the distribution of the human population in the year 2100. 

What will students do?

Students develop a 10th picture for this interactive developed by PBS. Students will draw a picture of the final "slide" and also include a description of rationale for the design. What evidence was used to create the final picture.

What will teachers do? 

Teachers support students' application of ideas from the EXPLORE + EXPLAIN activity. What do you think the map of the world will look like in another 50 year? Will limiting factors prevent the population from growing large indefinitely? Can human population somehow overcome limiting factors? More importantly, this is an excellent formative assessment activity. Can students accurately predict a future human population based on a framework of establish population growth factors (medicine, transport)?

EVALUATE: Synthesis

What will students do to complete this lesson with an extension assignment?

PROMPT: Describe how specific events on the timeline from the EXPLORE + EXPLAIN segment have influenced human population growth.  Your response must be at least 250 words and include two topics (Communications, Environment, Food and Agriculture, Health, Industry, Transportation, Population, Social Justice, or Women’s Roles).  Be sure to include a claim and appropriate evidence. Here is a supplemental resource that you can use to help you organize your ideas. (This resource is also attached in the RESOURCES section below.)

How will the teacher evaluate this work?

Can students use appropriate evidence to describe how one of the cited factors has influenced the growth of human populations over time? All feedback to students as evidence of students learning should be filtered through this question.