Where can you find a Pakistan-based AP Human Geography teacher, a New York college-level biology instructor, a Canadian middle school teacher, and a New Mexico outdoor educator all studying population issues together? Only in Population Education’s newest educational endeavor—an online graduate course offered through a partnership with the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC). The course, which launched in mid-October, introduces educators to PopEd activities and lesson plans that they can use with their students, and also encourages them to investigate a host of global challenges exacerbated by population growth.
Why an Online Course?
Every summer, PopEd hosts educators from across the country to participate in a leadership institute that prepares them to facilitate workshops throughout the United States. At the 2015 institute, a new trainer, Dr. Sandra Hamar, raised the idea of an online course for teachers who were unable to attend a workshop in person. “While at the workshop in Nebraska, it dawned on me that the materials and lessons were perfect for any practicing teacher, so why not develop an online course for graduate credit that teachers could take?” she recalls. PopEd staff had already been brainstorming different ways to offer professional development to teachers in hard-to-reach areas. Online learning offered the opportunity to reach more educators while allowing them to learn when it suited their schedule.
Developing the Course
Once we decided to develop a course, we sought out an instructor and a university partner. UMKC is one of the nation’s leaders in online education, accredited in most states for students to earn graduate credit. For an instructor, we looked to our PopEd trainers network and put out a call for applicants with online instruction experience and a strong command of the course content. From an impressive group of applicants, we selected Dr. Gail Luera, Associate Professor of Science Education at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. Prof. Luera’s academic background in sustainability education and her experience working in both K-12 and nonformal education settings impressed the approval committee at UMKC.
The course, Making the Population Connection: Exploring the Human-Environmental Nexus in Today’s Middle and High School Classroom, is designed for secondary science and social studies teachers. It aims to increase their knowledge of population issues and provide them with a variety of hands-on, standards-aligned activities and resources that can be applied to classroom instruction. Participants learn the fundamentals of demographic and environmental studies by exploring factors that influence human population growth, global development, distribution of natural resources, and environmental well-being. Through the study of contemporary theories, analysis of case studies, interactive discussion, and classroom application, students acquire the resources they need to integrate demographic and environmental studies into their classrooms. Educators taking the course have the choice to earn one graduate credit through UMKC or 45 professional development hours (4.5 Continuing Education Units) that they can use toward their teaching license renewal.
The course is asynchronous, which means students can work at their own pace, but it is also highly interactive. There are online discussion boards, weekly journals, polls, surveys, and a final project—all built to provide teachers with meaningful peer-to-peer interaction and instructor feedback. Dr. Luera employs the Teaching for Understanding model as the course’s educational framework. Teaching for Understanding challenges students to be more than just passive recipients of information. They are tasked with using their experience and unique background knowledge to contribute to their own learning and the learning of their peers.
Course participants explore population issues through a variety of mediums. There are carefully selected readings from organizations like the United Nations Environment Program and publications such as Scientific American and The New York Times. Participants are introduced to information about demographic trends through the Population Reference Bureau’s excellent video series, Distilled Demographics, and are further exposed to the impact humans have on the environment by watching portions of National Geographic documentaries. Students taking the course also have access to 19 short videos that form PopEd’s new Activity Video Library. These videos feature PopEd staff providing step-by-step demonstrations of a variety of the organization’s most popular lessons. Altogether, the skillfully curated multimedia resources available to course participants leave them prepared to enhance their own classroom instruction.
Looking into the Future
Population Education’s first venture into the world of online learning has been met with excitement from both its network of trainers and the educators who are taking the inaugural course. Dr. Hamar was delighted to see her idea launch. “Way to go for listening and responding to what today’s classroom teachers need: opportunities to learn about exciting, relevant, and valuable lessons that they can put into practice immediately, a doable format for their busy lives, and graduate credit towards their license renewal!”
Enrollees have also expressed their eagerness to learn more about population issues and how to integrate PopEd lessons into their classrooms. “I’m new to teaching AP Environmental Science and am looking forward to finding and exploring some current, engaging activities or lessons that are based on data,” shared Anne Mortimer, a high school science teacher from Washington State. “I know from previous experience that Population Education does some great work, and I’m excited to be a part of this course. I hope to create some worthwhile lessons for my classes.”
PopEd and UMKC plan to continue this partnership in 2017, offering the course each semester and in the summer. For enrollment information, please contact Elizabeth Black at firstname.lastname@example.org.