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

2 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


In this third of a three lesson sequence, student will be able to: 1) engage in evidence-based debate with peers; 2) assess the quality of debate arguments presented; 3) evaluate an argument against current consumption patterns; and 4) develop prototype solutions to problems posed by current human consumption patterns.

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: Do Americans use too much?

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.

DEBATE CONSTRAINTS: Rules of engagements

3 minutes

What is the purpose of this section?

Students are able to review debate constraints and begin to think about time management strategies.  The teacher is able to review expectations of the debate and take ownership of debate facilitation. 

What will students and the teacher do?

The teacher will review the following debate format:






 Students are able to ask for any clarification before transitioning into the ten minute work period.

DEBATE: Trial by jury

25 minutes

What is the purpose of this section?

Student deliver spoken, evidence-based arguments, create counterclaims, and evaluate the strength of presented arguments.  The teacher facilitates a complex research-based debate task and assess student proficiencies across a range of skills.

What will students do?

Students will follow the format outlined in the previous section to participate in the debate.  While one side is presenting arguments, the opposing side captures the primarily claims presented as well as the evidence used to support those claims.  These notes will be necessary for developing the two minute rebuttal arguments.

What will the teacher do?

The teacher will provide small group feedback during work periods, and collect data.  The key teacher move for this activity, however, is anticipating student obstacles and developing preventative intervention strategies to address those obstacles.  Some examples might include:

  • Problem: students that are learning English will not voluntarily share speaking responsibilities.  Solution: each group member must speak for at least twenty seconds.
  • Problem: students are not able to accurately capture the primary claim and supporting evidence provided in a spoken argument.  Solution: provide mini-lessons and targeted practice prior to the debate and use graphic organizers.

In addition to the above, a teacher may want to audio record the debate to use for debrief with individual student or student groups.  (I have attached a sample from the opening of a debate from one of my classes.)  Feedback provide along with an audio artifact is much more powerful because the students and teacher are able to discuss feedback that is less ambiguous than written or spoken feedback provided without audio.  Additionally, this feedback can be more granular and specific because students will be able to refer to the original "text."  This is especially useful for the overuse of verbal placeholders ("um" and "like") and confusing sentence structures.

EXTEND: Story of Stuff

25 minutes

What is the purpose of this section?

Students critically assess the argument presented in an excerpt from The Story of Stuff, make connections to content and skills developed during the current unit, and analyze personal consumption patterns.  The teacher introduces a narrative of human consumption that surfaces themes that will be explored in the next unit and reviews ideas developed during the current unit.

What will students do? 

Students will watch a 10 minute segment of The Story of Stuff (or a shorter presentation from this series) and respond to the following thought prompts:

  1. What is the story of human consumption described in this resource?
  2. How do I participate in this type of consumption?
  3. What are the environmental consequences of consuming stuff?
  4. How might this type of consumption contribute to the collapse of human society?
  5. What possible solutions exist for this type of consumption? 

What will the teacher do?

The teacher monitors student understanding during viewing by asking clarifying or probing questions of student responses.  (Post-its work best here, as they allow for clear feedback that is not disruptive).  The teacher will also facilitate a whole class discussion of student responses.  The goal is to surface a spectrum of ideas in order to provide a robust menu of analytic approaches that might be used for the final reflection activity.

EXIT: Reflections

3 minutes

What is the purpose of this section?

Students develop a summative response to the guiding question for this series of lessons.  The teacher gathers evidence of students' progress towards learning objectives and students' ability to apply concepts and skills to novel problems.

What will students do?

REFLECTION QUESTION: Are humans on the verge of collapse?

OPTION 1-Creative narrative: Write an obituary for a natural resource of at least 500 words.  Describe the natural resource.  Describe what happened to the natural resource. Explain how the loss of this natural resource will impact humans.  Describe what might happen to humans because we have lost this resource.  Develop one potentially solution that can help humans overcome the loss of this resource.  Finally, answer the reflection question.  (Your answer should flow directly from the text of your obituary.)

OPTION 2-Policy evaluation: Evaluate ONE solution proposed by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.  What are its strengths?  What are its weaknesses?  How would you improve this solution through iteration? Finally, answer the reflection question.  (Your answer should flow directly from your policy evaluation.) 

What will the teacher do?

My role in this assignment is to assess students' proficiency in developing evidence-based arguments that respond to the reflection question.  At this point in the year, I increasingly focus my feedback on how students connect evidence with claims.  To this end, I will primarily assess students' warrants in this activity. Why does a student believe evidence connects to a claim?  What does the logic of the students' provided warrant indicate about students' understanding of how the growing human population exerts an impact on physical environment of Earth?