Advancing PopEd in U.S. High Schools

Creating and interpreting population pyramids is included in AP Environmental Science and AP Human Geography.

While aspects of population issues come up in a variety of high school courses from biology and economics to world history, there are two courses in particular that provide in-depth study of population concepts and impacts. Advanced Placement Environmental Science (APES) and Advanced Placement Human Geography (APHG) each focus on population literacy for 4-5 weeks of the school year, and both courses are gaining in popularity. A combined 298,000 students were enrolled in these classes last school year, up 12 percent from the previous year. PopEd has a wealth of resources for these classes and is continuing to develop more to meet the needs of AP teachers.

Each summer The College Board, which develops the AP course outlines and administers the exams, sponsors teacher institutes nationwide to prepare new and experienced educators to teach the courses. Several of PopEd’s volunteer trainers have been facilitators of these AP Institutes in Texas in recent years. That gave us the idea to reach out to other facilitators to offer our materials and encourage them to demonstrate PopEd activities to Institute participants. This summer, PopEd resources are being used in 80 AP Summer Institutes in 28 states. Thanks to the generous support of Population Connection members, we provide AP Institute attendees with curriculum CDs, World Population maps, and online support.

What are APES and APHG?

Advanced Placement courses have been offered in high schools since the mid-1950s. The idea behind them is to begin preparing teens with college-level content while they are still in high school. What started as a handful of courses has grown to over 30 with an enrollment of nearly 2.5 million students each year.

APES was first offered in 1998 and is now in 5,801 U.S. schools. According to The College Board, the stated goal of the course is to “provide students with the scientific principles, concepts, and methodologies required to understand the interrelationships of the natural world, to identify and analyze environmental problems both natural and human-made, to evaluate the relative risks associated with these problems, and to examine alternative solutions for resolving or preventing them.”

Population is one of seven topics explored in APES. Beginning with an understanding of population ecology and carrying capacity, the course transitions to human population dynamics, strategies for sustainability, and impacts of population growth (including hunger, disease, economic effects, resource use, and habitat destruction).

APHG covers many of the same topics as APES but within a social studies perspective. First offered in 2001, APHG is now in 4,279 U.S. schools and is one of the fastest growing AP courses, quadrupling in enrollment over the past decade. In some states, including Florida, it has become the recommended ninth grade social studies course for college-bound students. The course aims to “make students more geo-literate, more engaged in contemporary global issues, and more multicultural in their viewpoints.”

In addition to covering human population dynamics (past and present), APHG addresses a number of social and environmental topics related to population trends: global food supply issues, sustainability, roles of women in agriculture and the labor force, industrialization, imbalances in consumption patterns, energy use, resource conservation, environmental justice, and urbanization. The population unit also addresses topics of migration, including refugees and the push-pull factors that influence immigration trends.

PopEd Enhances AP Courses

As rigorous, college-preparatory courses, APES and APHG are heavily dependent on one of several textbooks. Even so, teachers welcome interactive, engaging lesson plans that can capture their students’ interest and supplement the textbook. That’s where PopEd comes in. Many of our popular teaching activities incorporate the AP course topics in ways that are memorable and encourage thoughtful discussion. Global simulations, concept mapping, group problem-solving and interactive media enhance the course experience, while still preparing students for the final exam.

Susan Hollier began using PopEd materials first as a teacher in The Woodlands, Texas, and then as a College Board Consultant for APHG. “Through the activities, cartograms, and eye-catching Population Connection DVD, students begin to understand the important role they play in making our world a better place,” she writes. Over the past 16 years, Susan has facilitated 51 APHG Institutes for over 1,100 teachers in Texas, all incorporating PopEd activities.

Lili Monk, an APHG teacher in Bethesda, Maryland, started using PopEd materials last summer as an Institute facilitator and is now a convert. According to Lili, “Issues like overpopulation, unequal distribution of resources among world regions, and family planning become more easily understood when following the Population Connection lessons.” This summer, she is incorporating the lessons into AP Institutes she is leading in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina.

PopEd has also been able to reach AP students directly through our World of 7 Billion Video Contest. Many of the students who submit videos first learn about the contest in their AP classes. A growing number of teachers use the video challenges each year as a classroom assignment. As a result, our staff now selects the annual contest topics to complement course frameworks for both APES and APHG. Brian Cherniak, an APES teacher from Everett, Washington, has assigned the video challenges the past three years. “It’s a great way to tie in sustainability, environmental issues, and population growth,” he writes, “and a great way for students to demonstrate their understanding as well as do research.”

With hundreds of thousands of students taking APES and APHG, an ever-growing number of young people are becoming population literate. Combining PopEd’s thoughtful, interactive lessons with the substantive APES and APHG course outlines is a dynamic way to prepare a new generation of voters, community members, and leaders on critical global challenges.

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