Teaching Teachers How to Make the Population Connection: Population Education’s Online Professional Development Course

Do you remember learning about population issues in high school? What about middle school? Elementary? Probably not, unless you were in school after 1975 and you had teachers who elected to use Population Education materials in their classrooms.

Going forward, North American students will be more likely to answer “yes” to the above questions. That’s because the United States and Canada are adapting new education frameworks to include population topics such as human impacts on the environment, migration drivers and trends, and regional demographics in classrooms from kindergarten to 12th grade. Population Education, a program of Population Connection, strives to meet the needs of teachers who are working hard to educate the next generation of leaders, parents, consumers, and voters. One of the most advanced tools available is PopEd’s online professional development course, “Making the Population Connection: Exploring the Human-Environmental Nexus in Today’s Middle and High School Classroom.”

Recently completing its seventh semester, “Making the Population Connection” has run twice a year since 2016. Participants have the option of taking the course over eight weeks during the fall semester or condensed into an accelerated format over four weeks in July. The course is open to all educators teaching middle and high school aged children, whether they teach in traditional public school settings or in non-formal settings like zoos and nature centers.

Why Educators Love the Course

Teachers cannot stop raving about “Making the Population Connection.” In a recent survey, 94% of participants said that they would recommended the course to other educators in their networks, and over 70% ranked the usefulness of “Making the Population Connection” as “superior” or “far superior” to other online courses they have taken in the past.

Educators consistently praise the fantastic course instructor, Gail Luera, a professor at the University of Michigan at Dearborn, as well as the quality of the materials and resources given. While teachers gain a considerable wealth of knowledge on many different population topics, they also earn valuable credits. Every participant earns 45 professional development (PD) hours upon successful completion. For folks who are not savvy to the education world, states require teachers to earn PD hours in order to renew their teaching licenses multiple times throughout their careers. In addition to earning their 45 PD hours, teachers may choose to earn three graduate credits from Adams State University—an extremely popular option that the majority of participants choose during registration.

So, What Do They Learn?

“Making the Population Connection” is a comprehensive course on how to teach population issues. The course, created collaboratively by Population Education staff and Dr. Gail Luera, contains eight “modules.” Module topics range from “The History of Population Growth and Carrying Capacity” to “Understanding Global Inequity” to “Our Finite Environment.” These themes are prevalent in many middle and high school classes, including in Advanced Placement (AP) courses such as AP Human Geography and AP Environmental Science.

Each week, participants of the online course are tasked with multiple readings, most of which discuss current, population-related studies and events. After each module, they must complete some form of a graded assignment, from journal entries to interactive discussion posts. Discussion prompts ask participants to reflect on various topics (e.g. China’s one-child policy) or to review Population Education lesson plans. At the end of the course, all participants create a final project, which can take the form of lesson plans, TED Talk-style lectures, ARC GIS story maps, or Google Earth tours. Students of the online course—most of whom are already classroom teachers—are encouraged to create final projects that they can use during the school year to help their students understand the effects of human population growth.

Creating an Informed Generation

Teachers have incredible opportunities to help mold the next generation of young adults. Participants in PopEd’s “Making the Population Connection” online course learn how to teach their students about some of the most pressing issues that the world faces now and will face in the future, as the planet becomes more crowded. In a recent survey of the past six semesters, over 97% of respondents said they used Population Education resources such as readings, lesson plans, and projects in their classrooms.

These data-driven resources aim to help students understand the effects of population growth through hands-on activities and simulations that bring the issues to life. Informed students are more likely to take action and create meaningful change. This process begins with teachers who take the time to learn the best practices in teaching the next generation about global issues. “Making the Population Connection” begins with these dedicated teachers, but its impact expands far into the future.

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