Human Population Pyramids (2 of 3)

2 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


Students will be able to 1) construct a population age/gender distribution graph for one of six different countries and 2) make correlations between the shapes of the graphs and the growth patterns of different countries.

Big Idea

Human population growth statistics can describe the past and predict the future. How might we use visualized data tools called population pyramids to understand the implications of differing rates of human population growth in countries around the world?

FRAME: Family to country

How do we represent the characteristics of diverse human populations? The "Human Population Pyramids" has become a staple of the AP Environmental Science curriculum. How do we represent important information about human population through an impactful visual? How do we make quick inferences about populations from visualized data? In learning about population pyramids, students will have to engage with data visualization, drawing evidence from non-text sources, statistical analysis, modeling, computational thinking, and social and political factors that influence populations. As with "Cemetery Secrets", "Human Population Pyramids" pushes students to represent demographic data of multiple human populations and then apply this data to real-world problem solving.  

First lesson: Students explore a gapminder presentation of human population growth over the last 200 years to develop ideas about factors that influence different rates of growth. Then students build on this initial exploration by learning about how scientists use population pyramids to describe the attributes of a human populations. Next, students collect personal data and develop the skills of constructing a population pyramid. Finally, students discuss the process of creating population pyramids and share understanding of the importance of population pyramids as data visualization tools.

Second lesson: Building on the creation of population pyramids from the prior lesson, students formally define population pyramids and describe their applications. Students then work in groups to construct population pyramids for a range of countries. Once students have constructed these pyramids, they peer review work from other groups and describe how populations pyramids describe the unique social forces at work within a given country. Finally, students choose a country to explore in greater depth during the third lesson.

Third lesson: Students begin by practicing their ability to analyze population pyramids through a online tutorial. Students then use a population pyramid database to construct a profile of the county selected at the end of the previous lesson; this activity is essentially practice for the unit CAPSTONE.  Finally, students check their proficiency with human population pyramids by working through a series of questions from recent Advanced Placement examinations in Environmental Science.

By the end of the "Human Populations Pyramid" sequence successful students will have met the following objectives:

  1. calculate percentages using raw numbers for each age/gender group in a given population
  2. construct a population age/gender distribution graph for one of six different countries
  3. make correlations between the shapes of the graphs and the growth patterns of different countries
  4. apply understanding of population problems to solve questions from the Environmental Science AP exam.

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 environment?

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 environments?

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: What is a population pyramid?

In this FLIPPED activity to be done BEFORE class, students review concepts and skills from the previous lesson and also formally define a population pyramid. To do this, students watch two information clips:

Clip 1: National Institute for Demographic Studies Presentation

Clip 2: Economist Presentation

Students will respond to the following questions:

  1. How do scientists create a population pyramid?
  2. What are the characteristics of a population that looks like an actual pyramid?
  3. What are the characteristics of a population that does not look like an actual pyramid?
  4. What is a "spinning top?"
  5. What are some factors that influence the shape of a population pyramid?

RESOURCE NOTE: The Economist presentation is attached in the RESOURCE section in case youtube is blocked.

EXPLAIN: Population pyramids

15 minutes

What is the purpose of this section?

Students build on ideas from the FLIPPED assignment and formally review questions from the previous lesson's Triangle Talk activity. By the end of this activity students should be able to describe the information that a population pyramid communicates, especially the relationship between shape and future growth trajectory.

What will students do?

First, students will engage in a whole class share out using the following questions as guiding prompts:

  1. What is the most important skill needed to create a pyramid?
  2. What kind of information do these pyramids quickly show us?
  3. How do you think the pyramids we created would look in 50 years?  Support your answer with evidence.
  4. What is confusing to you about the population pyramid?

These are the same questions that students have already answered with peers. The goal for this section for this discussion is to surface as many student ideas as possible and to identify those ideas that are held by large subgroups of students. This allows students to develop a group understanding of the thinking of the class; it also allows the teacher to gather formative assessment data. When does student understanding break down? 

Next, students will also look at three examples of population pyramids and will attempt to explain what the differences among "rapid growth," "slow growth," and "negative growth" are.

See the REFLECTION for ideas to support students that struggle with this task.

ELABORATE 1: Population power

25 minutes

What is the purpose of this section?

Students construct population pyramids for various countries and compare the characteristics of created pyramids with peers. By the end of this activity students will have created a population pyramid for a country and use information from this pyramid to describe characteristics of the country in the future.

What will students do?

Students work in groups to develop a population pyramid for one of six countries: Nigeria, France, India, United States, Mexico, and China. Printable country profiles for student use are available at the end of the PROTOTYPE ACTIVITY GUIDE. Students receive the following directions:

  1. You will be assigned a country and given its data.  My assigned country is: ____________________ 
  2. Perform percentage calculations for each age category. Divide each age category population by the total population of that country.
  3. Create your population pyramid.
  4. When you have finished, compare your product with the population pyramid for your country with this tool.
  5. Describe the shape of your population pyramid.  What does it look like?
  6. Explain why your population pyramid has its unique shape.  You might use this reference for assistance.
  7. Predict what the population pyramid of this country will look like in 2050. 
  8. Describe how you think this country will use environmental resources in the future.

What will teachers do?

During this activity I will circulate to student groups and scaffold pyramid construction.  Student needs cover a wide range, from calculating percents, to appropriate inferences derived from the visual presentation of data.  Additionally, I will push students to research the political and social characteristics of a country when developing ideas about why a particular population pyramid has the shape it does. 

ELABORATE 2: Peer to peer learning

10 minutes

What is the purpose of this section?

Students compare population pyramids and develop ideas about how the shape of a population pyramid correlates with the social, economic, and political conditions within a human population. By the end of this activity students should be able to describe how the shape of a population pyramid correlates with at least one economic, political, or social condition within a country.

What will students do?

Students within each group will compare created population pyramids with other student groups in the class.  Students note similarities and differences among created population pyramids and attempt to develop explanations for these differences.  Students also consider what populations will look like in 50 years.

What will the teacher do?

My teacher move during this activity is to let students drive conversation as much as possible.  I will gather formative assessment data here.  What kinds of questions do students ask?  Are students able to accurately interpret a population pyramid?  Can students see the downstream impact of current population pyramid characteristics?  Can students connect social and political factors with population profiles?

EXIT: My country, your country

5 minutes

What will students do?

Student groups share out what they learned during the previous activity.  They also identify a country of interest other than the one that that they worked on in groups and explain what they chose that country.