Are humans on the verge of collapse? (1 of 3)

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Objective

During this first of a three lesson sequence students will be able to: 1) identify factors that might contribute to the collapse of societies; 2) accurately interpret data visualizations of human population growth over time; and 3) explain how human populations impact the planet through in-depth case study

Big Idea

The growing human population threatens the stability of Earth. How might we understand how human population growth and consumption patterns influence the environment in order to design more sustainable human development?

FRAME: Populations deep dive

Can the human species escape the influence of density-dependent limiting factors forever? The purpose of the "Are humans on the verge of collapse?" lesson sequence is for students to refine the skills and concepts developed during this unit through assessment of the future of the human population. What is the current population growth model of humans? How has human growth changed over time? How do visualized data tools such as survivorship curves and population pyramids help us understand the past and predict the future?

The first lesson introduces students to Jared Diamond's idea of collapse.  Why do some human civilizations fail?  How can the past help us to assess the susceptibility of modern societies to collapse? What does data say about the current state of the world?  Students first examine data visualizations to get a basic framework for exploring the idea of collapse. Then, students explore case studies to better understand this question and share out initial understanding with peers.  

The second lesson pushes students to engage in more intellectually rigorous dialogue through a "Post-it and Roast it" activity.  Students also develop an understanding of the conceptual IPAT equation to support their analysis of human consumption.  The lesson ends with students developing an argument for or against the idea that the population of the United States will collapse in the future.  These arguments are necessary practice for the CAPSTONE project and will be refined during the third lesson.

Finally, in the third lesson, students hold a peer-mediated debate exploring the idea that "Americans use too much."  This work extends to a critical analysis of The Story of Stuff that pushes students to develop a nuanced claim about the impact of the human population on the natural world. As an assessment, students either develop a creative obituary for a natural product or critiques a solution idea proposed by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.  

By the end of this lesson sequence, successful students will have met the following objectives:

  1. identify factors that might contribute to the collapse of societies
  2. accurately interpret data visualizations of human population growth over time
  3. explain how human populations impact the planet through in-depth case study exploration
  4. develop a claim about the potential collapse of human society;
  5. critically respond to other students' claims with counterclaims
  6. evaluate a claim by applying the IPAT equation
  7. engage in evidence-based debate with peers
  8. assess the quality of debate arguments presented
  9. evaluate an argument against current consumption patterns
  10. develop prototype solutions to problems posed by current human consumption patterns.

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

FLIPPED: Why do human populations collapse?

What is the purpose of this section?

Students have an opportunity to explore the idea of civilization collapse through an engaging National Geographic presentation.  Teachers are able to "prime the pump" and create motivation for this final sequence of lesson in the human population unit.  This assignment should be completed before this sequence of lessons for students to be able to fully participate.  

What will students do?

First, students watch the first 10 minutes of Collapse, a documentary based on the work of population ecologist Jared Diamond. 

Next, students develop a one paragraph response to the following question: Why do human populations collapse?

What will the teacher do?

Teachers will incorporate student work in classroom discussions, and as a starting point for one on one and small group discussions.

What are some differentiation options for this activity?

Teachers might assign the attached reading to more advanced students.  Similarly, Jared Diamond's TED Talk about the collapse of human civilizations is another option for students that would benefit from a more rigorous initial treatment of this content.  Here is the video for the TED Talk:

For students that struggle with independent, self-paced work, teachers might assign only a thought question.  "Why do you think humans might go extinct?" is an example.

ENGAGE: Collapse!

20 minutes

What is the purpose of this section?

Students are able to synthesize their understanding of why human populations collapse and examine data visualizations that suggest potential causes for the collapse of modern human populations.  The teacher is able to gauge students level of comfort with both the "flipped classroom" concepts and ability to draw conclusions from visualized data.  

What will students do?

TASK 1

The whole class watch the first four minutes of Collapse together and respond to the following prompt in a paragraph: What do you think might cause a human population to collapse?

NOTE: This is the same film that students were supposed to have previewed during the FLIPPED assignment.

TASK 2

Students examine the four data visualizations below and answer these guiding questions:

  • What information does each graph communicate?  
  • How does this information challenge the ideas you developed in Task 1? 


Finally, students are asked to reconsider responses to “Task 1” and answer the following question: How might the human population on Earth collapse in the future?  

What will the teacher do?

I am primarily looking for two things during this section of the lesson: 1) reasons students provide for the potential collapse of society and 2) students' ability to draw conclusions from data.  The remaining units in this course will challenge students to make predictions and interpret data, so these are crucial skills for students to have developed.  Additionally, the next section of this lesson is largely a student-centered exploration of case studies that allow students to more fully investigate factors that contribute to the collapse of human populations.  My observations of students' data analysis abilities and ideas about why societies collapse help me to better guide my students towards content that are a good fit for skills and interests. 

In addition to these observations, I will also hold a whole class discussion of the meaning of each of the four data visualizations.  Students will do most of the cognitive work in this process, but I will explicitly provide students with a statement about each visual.

How will students capture their work?

The attached student handout was used throughout all three lessons for students to capture work.  This is an example of a generic handout that I will use as a "base template" for my classes.  Different cohorts receive differentiated versions of this handout, and not every student will complete all activities.  


EXPLORE: Case Studies

30 minutes

What is the purpose of this section?

Students continue their exploration of factors that might lead to the collapse of societies by choosing two of four themes to explore in greater depth.  The teacher provides individual and small group support to learners.

DIFFERENTIATION NOTE: Teachers may want to use this hhmi interactive to introduce the case study approach, especially for students that struggle with internet research or in self-determined learning pathways. It nicely frames many of the ideas that student will develop during this activity.

What will students do?

Students will explore TWO of four themes related to human population and potential collapse of society.  Each station is briefly described below.

STATION 1: History of human development (Great for students interested in data visualizations)

What are THREE main ideas, insights, skills, or concepts that you learned at this station?

How does this content at this station apply to Sunset Park and the wider New York City region?

STATION 2: Transportation + Urban sprawl (Great for students interested in video narrative)

Case studies

What are THREE main ideas, insights, skills, or concepts that you learned at this station?

How does this content at this station apply to Sunset Park and the wider New York City region?

STATION 3-Keystone species (Great for students interested in ecological impacts)

What are THREE main ideas, insights, skills, or concepts that you learned at this station?

How does this content at this station apply to Sunset Park and the wider New York City region?

STATION 4-Climate change (Great for students interested in human impact on climate)

What are THREE main ideas, insights, skills, or concepts that you learned at this station?

How does this content at this station apply to Sunset Park and the wider New York City region?

What will the teacher do?

Teacher interactions will depend entirely on individual class compositions.  In generally, I ask probing questions of students, push students to make connections between a station theme and the local Brooklyn community, and may also introduce students to new research that will allow them to explore a topic in even greater depth.  The goal for all of these interactions is for students to develop responses to both reflective questions for each section.

EXIT: Takeaways

5 minutes

What is the purpose of this section?

Students publicly share takeaways and questions from the lesson.  The teacher is able to gauge students' interest in the materials and also collects data that will be used to adjust the next lesson in the sequence.

What will students do?

Students share out either something learned or something that is confusing.