Demographic transition

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Students will be able to: 1) articulate the key elements of the demographic transition (DT) model; 2) construct graphs of contemporary demographic change; and 3) explain contemporary demographic patterns in the context of the classic DT model.

Big Idea

The demographic transition model describes how populations change over time. How might we use this model to explain how the population growth trends of countries will stress the Earth’s limited natural resources?

FRAME: The only constant is change

What factors cause changes in the shapes of population pyramids? "Demographic Transition" links students' understanding of population pyramids with an explanatory theory that will be essential for success with the Unit CAPSTONE. Why do some human populations grow more quickly than others? Why is the life expectancy higher some countries? Is there a predictable pattern that population pyramids follow? These are the types of questions that students will be expected to answer by the end of this lesson.

Students need to understand the basic ideas of the demographic transition model in order to provide evidence-based claims that describe why human population pyramids differ and how population pyramids will change over time. This lesson provides a powerful analytic framework. Students will use it to make sense of human population growth over time. Students will also use it to consider potential solutions to problems people face in different societies. How might we reduce infant mortality? How might we stabilize population growth? How might we decrease the environmental impact of country? 

This lesson begins with an exploration of the demographic transition as a FLIPPED assignment before class. In class, students first share ideas about the demographic transition theory that they learned from the FLIPPED assignment and then work through models of the theory from video and text resources. Next, students work through an interactive apply their emerging conceptual knowledge to case studies. How does the shape of a population pyramid impact a country's stage of demographic transition? Finally, students will work with data from the United States Census Bureau to assess their understanding of the demographic transition theory.

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 question: 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?
    4. How do different rates of development within a country influence how specific human populations will impact the environments?

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

PRIOR KNOWLEDGE NOTE: Students should have demonstrated proficiency with survivorship curves prior to this lesson. Population pyramids are another data visualization tool that will require many of the same skills that students needed for survivorship curves, such as collecting data, processing data for use in a graph, plotting data, drawing conclusions from data, comparing the meaning of different graphs, and using data visualizations to make predictions about future population growth. 

RESOURCE NOTE: The attached PROTOTYPE ACTIVITY GUIDE contains a series of learning activities that might be modified by educators for classroom use.

FLIPPED: Transitioning

What is the purpose of this section?

BEFORE this lesson students extract information from two instructional videos so that they can describe the general idea of the demographic transition theory as well as the relationship between the theory and the shape of population pyramids. By the end of this FLIPPED assignment students should be able to describe the demographic transition theory in words or through data visualization; students should also be able to match at least one population pyramid shape to a stage of demographic transition.

What will students do?

Students will view two short videos and answer questions about each. Students will also write a short summary paragraph of the content from both.

VIDEO ONE: The Four Stages of Demographic Transition

  1. What are the key characteristics of the first stage of demographic transition?
  2. What are the key characteristics of the second stage of demographic transition? (Hint: the differences between the first and second stage are important.)
  3. What are the key characteristics of the third stage of demographic transition? (Hint: the differences between the second and third stage are important.)
  4. What are the key characteristics of the fourth stage of demographic transition? (Hint: the differences between the third and fourth stage are important.)

VIDEO TWO: Demographic Transition and Population Pyramids

  1. What are the variables described by the demographic transition model?
  2. What would be an example of a high growth rate?
  3. Which stages of demographic transition have a high rate of population growth?
  4. What causes population growth rate to reach zero?
  5. How does a population pyramid provide information about stages of demographic transition?

Summary: What are the most important features of the demographic transition theory?  What information can a population pyramid provide about a stage of demographic transition? Explain in words and with a diagram.


RESOURCES NOTE: Both videos are attached in case youtube is blocked within a school. These videos are from a third party and attribution information is available from the host pages linked above.

ENGAGE: Main idea jam

15 minutes

What is the purpose of this section

Students build on their understanding of the FLIPPED assignment to summarize the purpose of this lesson and suggest ways to use the demographic transition theory to predict future human impact on the environment.  The teacher collects valuable formative assessment data. By the end of this section, students should be able to describe the purpose of this lesson to a classmate and make one prediction supported by evidence about how the human population will impact the environment in 2050.

What will students do?

Student engage with this video presentation and summarize the main ideas in one paragraph. Then students will answer the following question: If the world population is 9 billion in 2050, what impact will this have on the environment?  Students engage in silent peer review once they have finished. Each students in a group pass written summaries to three classmates for written feedback. Do you agree or disagree with the prediction? Why? Finally, student groups will read one prediction to the whole class.

EXPLORE: What is the demographic transition theory?

10 minutes

What is the purpose of this section?

The class will learn about the demographic transition model through a teacher-centered mini-lesson format.  The teacher will perform explicit modeling and explicitly correct student misunderstanding. By the end of this section all students should be able to describe the causes of demographic transition.

What will students do?

Students will read a short article about the demographic transition model and then annotate a graphical representation of the model.  Annotations will emphasize the social and political factors influence a rise or fall in death rate, birth rate, and total population. The teacher will model this annotation process by adding factors to the "What are the stages of the demographic transition model?" graph. Such factors might include improved medicine, education, and participation in the workforce. These are the same factors that students may have identified from the FLIPPED assignment. By the end of this mini-lesson, each student should have at least one factor impacting the birth rate and death rate within each stage of demographic transition. 

EXPLAIN: Population pyramids and demographic transition

10 minutes

What is the purpose of this section?

Students will describe the demographic transition stage of one of the countries from "Human Population Pyramids" using the population pyramid of that country. By the end of this section students should be able to match the shape of a country's population pyramid with the demographic stage of that country.

What will students do?

Student groups will be assigned one of the six countries previously studied: Nigeria, France, India, United States, Mexico, and China.

First, each group has the goal of matching the population pyramid of the selected country with the demographic transition stage of that country and explaining the factors in that country that contribute to the identified stage of demographic transition. Students may use one of the following resources for this task:

Second, each group will present their findings to the class. 

What will the teacher do? 

For this task, nearly all students groups are able to match the population pyramid with the stage of demographic transition. What is more challenging is for students to identify the factors that contribute to this stage, such as quality of medical care. Teachers may want to hold a whole class discussion of ideas in order to help students make connections between economic, social, and political factors affecting a population and the population pyramid and demographic transition stage of that country.

EVALUATE: Transition and environmental impact

20 minutes

What is the purpose of this section?

Students predict the future demographic transition state of a country and connect this future state to the likely environmental impact of that country. By the end of this section students should be able to make an evidence-based prediction about the future demographic state of a country as well as the future environmental impact of that country.

What will students do?

First, student groups select a country to assess that has not yet been studied during class.

Second, student groups use this tool to research demographic data and predict that country's future demographic transition stage. Here is the protocol for conducting this research:

  1. Choose Population Pyramid Graph from "Select Report."
  2. Start with 1950 and select every fifth year by clicking on the year while holding the "ctrl" key.
  3. Select the group's chosen country from the "Select one or more Countries or Areas" box.
  4. Choose "Individual Country data only" from the "Aggregation Options" box.
  5. Submit.
  6. Note the changing population pyramids over time. What stages of demographic transition does this country pass through? What factors are most likely responsible for these shifts?
  7. Examine the population pyramid of this country in 2050. What is the most likely environmental impact of this country in 2050? For help with this question, consider the resources used at each stage.

Third, students will share findings with the class. 

What will the teacher do?

In addition to troubleshooting technology issues, the most important teacher move in this section is push students to use appropriate evidence for their predictions about the environmental impact of the chosen country in 2050. What types of resources will this country use? How will economic, social, or political factors influence this country's use of natural resources? Is this a country that is likely to focus on the health of its environment or will other issues be more important?