Twenty Years of Teaching Population: PopEd Trainer Perspectives

Since the early 1990s, the Population Education Trainers Network (PETNet) has been an essential part of the Population Education (PopEd) program. Comprised of expert educators with a passion for population studies, PopEd volunteers are uniquely positioned to make our resources relevant and engaging to local audiences in their own communities.

The 650 members of our PETNet lead Population Education workshops for current K-12 teachers, pre-service education students, and nonformal educators (those who work in zoos, nature centers, science centers, and museums) in their communities. They reach thousands of educators every year around the U.S., Canada, and several countries abroad.

We couldn’t achieve all we do without our volunteer trainers — they presented three-quarters of our 738 teacher training workshops in 2017!

For this anniversary issue of our magazine, we asked four trainers who have been presenting our materials for the past two decades to share their experiences, reflecting on how PopEd curriculum resources and population issues have resonated with teachers in their communities over the years. Together, Janice, Jodi, Ray, and Chris have presented nearly 200 PopEd workshops in their respective regions. Read about their experiences and reflections on the four profiles that follow!

Interested in joining the PETNet and leading workshops for educators in your area?

See if you meet the criteria:

  • Have you taught in a K-12 classroom?
  • Have you attended one of our workshops?
  • Can you provide references that can speak to your qualifications as an educational professional and presenter?

If you answered ‘yes’ to all three questions, you may be eligible to become a Population Education Trainer!

To apply, please fill out our online application form. After receiving your application, we will contact your references, and then contact you to set up a brief phone interview.

Apply online:

Janice Greene

Biology Professor, Missouri State University

PETNet member since 1992

Favorite PopEd Lessons

In addition to doing teacher training workshops, I use PopEd lessons in my undergraduate biology courses to teach the content. In my ornithology course, I often do “Earth: Apple of Our Eye” during our conservation and habitat degradation unit. The visual shows how little space we actually have to feed everyone, and also to protect biodiversity.

I also share the lessons with my course for pre-service middle school teachers. While the focus is science methods, some will teach other subjects, and the PopEd lessons are good for tying in all of the different topics. I enjoy seeing the “light bulb” moment for many students when we do the lesson “One for All.” Often, one college student will take all of the poker chips (that represent resources) at once. Before I say anything, I make the group keep playing without communicating for several rounds. It’s really fun to watch their thought process and how they change the strategy. The game shows them they don’t have to stop using the resource altogether, but need to control how they use it.

Engaging Teachers Over 26 Years

I find that teachers are more willing to use the PopEd curriculum materials now than they were when I first started. Creativity, and finding ways to teach concepts in a fun way, are really important in the education world today. With so much testing going on in schools now, I find that teachers are more open to the PopEd curriculum because it’s a creative way of tackling issues that can seem difficult, and they really seek that out.

I am in a very conservative part of the country (southwestern Missouri). People here are passionate about personal choices and individual rights, so I approach population studies by asking them to consider how they use resources, not by telling them how to behave. Population is a critical topic, and sometimes people avoid it because they’re worried about offending someone. But we need to talk about it and be comfortable with it. It’s so much more than just numbers of people. PopEd has so many great activities, and they can meet so many needs, from those of classroom teachers to those of informal educators!

Jodi Bondy

Education Consultant, Central Indiana

PETNet member since 1995

A Memorable Workshop Experience

Recently, I presented at the state science conference I used to attend regularly when I was teaching, but hadn’t been to in about ten years. My PopEd session had over 70 people! It was like having a welcoming committee. It’s clear this issue is still relevant, and people really want to learn about it. During the workshop, I took the teachers to the PopEd website and watched how much they enjoyed the lessons there. Your office actually got an email during that workshop from someone wanting to become a trainer. This is not a dying topic!

Population Issues in Jodi’s Community

Many of the workshops I present are for people working in farming communities, and many of their students and their families are farmers. So, if we talk about environmental problems with fertilizer, realize that one kid’s dad might work for the company that makes the fertilizer. It’s really about listening to others. They are talking from their viewpoint and you’re talking from yours. That doesn’t mean you don’t have people who find the material useful — you just have to be cognizant and not bash any organization or any group. At some point, we just have to talk about these things and be honest — figure out a way to hear and understand what others say, and to be tolerant. I tell people, ‘I’m just trying to teach kids about saving what we’ve got.’

The Future of the PopEd Program

This is a topic that’s not going to go away. I’d like to see PopEd continue to investigate hot topics, whether it’s finding alternative fuels or educating people about reproductive choices. I really like that the materials are not about giving answers. We need to let the kids talk. They’re the ones who will make this happen and who will make changes. With these topics, they aren’t tested or graded, and there is not really a right answer. Rather than saying that as adults we have all the answers, we need to allow students to think critically to save the world. And PopEd lessons are great for that. I really enjoy presenting them, as it lets me get my science education fix even though I’m not a classroom teacher anymore!

Ray Oldakowski

Geography Professor, Jacksonville University

PETNet member since 1998

A Memorable Workshop Experience

When I first started out training for PopEd, I did a workshop for future elementary teachers at a local university. At that time, the world population had recently hit 6 billion. I remember how excited they were to receive the booklet of lesson plans. They thumbed through the book, and were saying how they would use every single one and sharing how they could modify it to be about their local context. Teachers love getting lesson plans that are well thought out. It was really enjoyable to see.

Population Issues in His Community

As a professor of geography, I teach my students that any issue can be looked at in different scales — local, national, and global. Population fits into that perfectly. I’ve lived in Jacksonville for the past 25 years, and it’s a very pro-growth and pro-business city. It seems to be the goal to attract as much population as possible, because economic growth is seen as connected to population growth. However, at the state level in Florida, we’re seeing a need for growth management, and trying to have enough resources to support everyone. People are considering whether we’re building schools fast enough, looking at places where there’s no water to support the population, and seeing increased pollution from traffic. In other parts of the country, they’re struggling with people leaving, and that has problems associated with it, too. It’s amazing how just within the U.S., population issues can be so diverse at a local level.

An Emphasis on Environmental Issues

Right now, I see much more emphasis on how population relates to the environment. When I first started presenting, social issues were more prominent in the discussion, with a focus on infant mortality rates and global development and how that related to fertility. Now environmental stewardship takes the lead. Of course, I think this is all cyclical in education. We’re currently more focused on the environment, and slightly less so on these social issues, but it will likely come back around. Overall, I see people recognizing more that we must be global, not local. As Americans, we can’t ignore Africa and Latin America in terms of environmentalism, and population growth is part of that consideration.

Chris Clovis

Retired Science Educator, Ontario, Canada

PETNet member since 2001

Favorite PopEd Lessons

My favorite one is probably “Water, Water Everywhere.” In North America we take this resource for granted, and don’t think about how in some places in Africa and the Caribbean, there is no tap that puts out potable water. It’s treated as a much more precious resource elsewhere. I have also used it to talk about the commodification of our water resources. I had students compare the cost of tap water to the cost of bottled water and see the difference, and we ended up running a successful campaign against plastic bottles in our community.

Another one I like is “People on the Move,” about the push and pull factors of immigration. I use it to address bullying and get students to understand what their classmates who look or act differently from them are experiencing. It’s a quick lesson, but strong for that purpose. I always ask teachers to focus on the philosophy behind why they are teaching something — is it just because it’s in their curriculum, or is there something more important to glean?

PopEd Today and Tomorrow

Population Education is not just about population anymore, and I think that trend needs to continue. I’d like to see more lessons like “Earth: The Apple of Our Eye” that address issues with our food systems. As a society, we are now learning more about microbiomes — what’s in the soil that helps us grow our food and what’s in our bodies that helps us stay healthy. I’d like to have lessons that discuss not just stable populations, but healthy ones. I’m actually working on a paper about the connections between our food system and increased health problems in the West.

Talking to you about these issues is getting me excited for the workshop I’m presenting next Tuesday! I think this material allows me to work on issues that are really important for kids to understand. These are fantastic teaching tools!

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