How Can You Make Population Education Lessons Locally Relevant?

Last week, I presented six workshops at three universities in northern Utah – Weber State University, Utah Valley University, and the University of Utah. Two specific local topics came up in almost every session – large families and the Kennecott copper mine.

After watching the World Population “dot” video, I challenged the students to think of things that impact our numbers and thus, how many babies are being born. In every single session, a participant brought up the fact that many people in Utah currently have, or come from, a large family. This wasn’t surprising as Utah leads the US with the highest fertility rate (average number of children born per woman) among the 50 states. Utah’s fertility rate is 2.4; the fertility rate for the US is 1.9. This high fertility rate translates into the highest birth rate in the US, with 18.2 births per 1,000 people in Utah compared to 12.7 for the US as a whole. So what I discussed with the students was the importance of trends and averages. The average fertility rate of the US takes into account all of the large families, in places like Utah, and all the small families with one or no children that are found in other regions across the county. When it comes to projecting future growth, long-term trends are typically more telling than short-term stats taken from a small area.

The Kennecott copper mine was typically mentioned while discussing the PopEd activity Mining for Chocolate. In the activity, the students used toothpicks to “mine” chocolate chips out of cookies and we then discussed the implications of the mining on the local area’s environment. In pulling from their previous knowledge of mining, many students commented on fieldtrips they’d taken to the copper mine or referenced recent events broadcast on the local news. It was great to see the students take a vested interest in the topic as they saw the connections between the model simulation we did in the classroom, and the real-world mining taking place right there at home.

Being able to tie lessons to local topics can be useful in making the classroom activity become more relevant in the students’ eyes, more memorable as a take-away, and easier to comprehend as they are able to connect the content to their previous knowledge base.