Last Friday I presented Population Education lessons and resources to a group of eager educators, but this was not a typical PopEd workshop. Rather than hands-on and face-to-face, it was a virtual workshop conducted online as part of the National Biodiversity Teach-In. Because attendance was not limited by location, 480 educators from nine US states and three countries abroad were able to participate in my session “Make the People Connection: Population and Biodiversity in the Classroom.”
The National Biodiversity Teach-In is the brainchild of students and teachers at Elgin High School in northeast Illinois. Now in its fourth year, the event is as successful as ever at bringing experts in fields related to biodiversity together with students and teachers all over the world. These experts include representatives from the likes of NOAA, NASA, and the US Geological Survey. Others are from non-profits, universities, conversation programs, and discovery centers. Children’s book authors and documentarians offer their insights as well providing the schedule with an impressive mix of topics and talents. All sessions take place as webinars, held every Friday in February.
As with all PopEd workshops, the audience was made up of teachers and educators and we focused on how to discuss biodiversity-population links with students. Biodiversity is vitally important to humans’ health and well-being but simultaneously, humans are the underlying cause of much biodiversity loss. Human changes to the Earth’s landscape, whether direct or indirect, have caused the alteration or loss of global habitats. And the disappearance of habitats, is in turn the number one driver of decreasing biodiversity.
I demonstrated (modified for a screen) two PopEd classroom lesson plans. The first, Population Circle, is a large-group class simulation showing the exponential growth of global population over time. The second lesson, A World of Difference, has pairs of students comparing the biodiversity of a temperate forest to that of a tropical rainforest. Both lessons brought to light issues both current and relevant. As human numbers have increased over time, the number of other species with whom we share the planet has decreased. Extinction rates are currently 500 times the natural rate. And to complicate matters, many of the most biodiverse places on the planet are located where population is growing the fastest and thus have the potential to see drastic changes to their environment.
In addition to the lesson plans, we looked over other resources to help make the population-biodiversity link. Students can explore the Land Use map overlay on WorldPopulationHistory.org to see where changes to the natural landscape have occurred over time and compare these areas with locations of high population. The World of 7 Billion student video contest has taken on biodiversity-related topics in the past (wildlife habitat in 2012-2013, and the sixth extinction in 2014-2015) and it could be incorporated this year as well with current contest topics including deforestation and public health.