Our staff and volunteer trainers facilitate teacher workshops year-round, but October is, by far, our busiest month. Of the more than 150 workshops we presented in October, 70 were facilitated by our staff, who traversed the United States and eastern Canada. Here’s just a sampling of those experiences.
Lindsey Bailey, Teacher Training Manager
A quiet group of future science teachers at the University of Ottawa were suddenly talking over each other with remarks like, “Yes, that’s happening here!” and, “It’s just like that farm!”
The activity that drew them out of their shells was “Earth, the Apple of Our Eye,” a powerful visual lesson using an apple to represent the planet. After setting aside pieces of the apple to represent water, inhospitable regions (poles, deserts, mountains), and developed land, students see that only 1/32 of the earth is arable land capable of growing food.
After gaping at the tiny remaining piece of apple, we discussed over-farming, erosion, and pollution. But it wasn’t until a student pointed out the impact of urban sprawl that the light bulbs went off.
A portion of a farm just a few miles from campus is in jeopardy of being lost to sprawl, they told me. Founded on the outskirts of the city in the 1880s, the Central Experimental Farm now sits within the city’s downtown. It is the federal research site for the Canadian Department of Agriculture, which has gained international recognition for its soil preservation and agricultural research. Losing this farm would not only mean losing land, but would also end years of soil studies. After discussing the farm, it was clear that the students could see the relevance of population issues in their everyday lives.
Carol Bliese, Director of Teacher Programs
While in southern Florida, I presented workshops to five sections of the elementary science methods course at Florida International University in Miami—one of the largest universities in the United States, with 55,000 students.
Though the first PopEd workshop at FIU was back in 1999, we have not had a consistent presence on the campus since the mid-2000s. But hopefully that is about to change. I have already begun discussing PopEd workshops for science classes next spring with the professor who organized my fall workshops.
Building relationships with university education faculty is key to the long-term sustainability of the Population Education program. When faculty members see the value of PopEd resources and the impact of our hands-on workshops, they ask us back again and again.
Lauren Boucher, In-Service Coordinator
One of my favorite things about traveling with PopEd is experiencing a diversity of backgrounds, cultures, and ideologies. On a recent trip to the Midwest, I was particularly struck by a small group of students I worked with at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas.
Haskell is one of 32 fully accredited Tribal Colleges and Universities in the United States, serving over 1,000 students representing 140 Tribal and Alaska Native communities. While the university’s roots have ties to a dark chapter of our nation’s history (it was founded in 1884 as an elementary school aimed at assimilating American Indian children into the Protestant “mainstream”), its success since becoming a junior college 45 years ago is tangible evidence of the relentless self-determination of Tribal communities.
After the workshop, students shared information about their upbringings and their future careers as teachers. Many want to work in schools on reservations in order to close the widening achievement gap. I was very inspired by these students and their strong convictions. They really saw the utility of the PopEd curriculum and were excited to incorporate our lessons into their classrooms.
Lauren Carlson, Curriculum Resource Coordinator
A trip through southern New England brought me close to colorful fall foliage and enthusiastic student teachers. My first workshop of the week was for graduate students in a social studies methods course at Regis College, outside of Boston. We started the workshop by watching the World Population “dot” video and creating population pyramids for six different countries. This stimulated a great discussion on population projections and which countries are growing faster than others. Then, a student asked about refugees and internally displaced populations—how and where those people are counted now and in the future, and how population pyramids might change because of that.
That unexpected deviation was memorable for me as a facilitator because, while we didn’t get through our entire planned agenda, we had an interesting and relevant discussion, and all the workshop participants were engaged in the material. We were able to take the curriculum and root it in real-world events, and those students walked away that evening excited to teach!
Isabelle Rios, Education Program Associate
A recent trip to North Carolina took me from one beautiful campus to another. At the University of North Carolina in Greensboro, I spent a full day working with elementary social studies teachers on topics ranging from land use and water pollution to global economics. I was particularly impressed by reactions and thoughts elicited by the activity “Global Cents,” in which students develop budgets to meet the basic needs of average American and Malawian families. They thoughtfully considered their needs and wants and how to make both work within two very different budgets and lifestyles. This lesson really resonated with several students, stimulating ideas on adapting this activity to raise student awareness about the social and economic gaps that persist in our own country.
It is so powerful to see a group of young educators understand and appreciate the potential that each of our activities has, and even more exciting to hear them articulate how they are going to adapt them to make a lasting impact on their students.