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What Every Citizen Should Know About Our Planet
Randolph Femmer
Mathematics, Science

Unit created on 5/4/1999 EST.
Last modified 5/12/2000 12:12:27 PM EST.

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Fundamental Understandings (help)

KEYWORDS: Population Growth, Population Biology, Environmental Carrying Capacities, Limiting Factors, Exponential Mathematics, J-Curves, Million vs. Billion, Demographic Literacy Each day today there are approximately 365,000 births and approximately 147,000 deaths. This means that there are an extra 218,000 persons inhabiting our planet each day. At this rate, we add an extra one BILLION citizens to our planet every 12 years. When students complete this unit, they will know these data -- and they will use a riddle involving 100 homework questions per night, five nights per week, 52 weeks per year to calculate just how enormous a billion is. Students will also master the following terms and concepts: carrying capacity, limiting factors, exponential number sequences, J-curves, and arithmetic number sequences.

Technology ISTE Standards (info) 

Routinely and efficiently use online information resources to meet needs for collaboration, research, publications, communications, and productivity. Select and apply technology tools for research, information analysis, problem-solving, and decision-making in content learning.

Information Literacy Standards (info) 

Recognizes the importance of information to a democratic society. Derives meaning from information presented creatively in a variety of formats. Applies information in critical thinking and problem solving. Integrates new information into one's own knowledge.

Relevance (help)

Recently, the National Academy of Science and its British equivalent, the Royal Society of London, issued an unprecendented joint statement. Their first sentence: "If current predictions of population growth and patterns of human activity on the planet remain unchanged... science and technology may not be able...to prevent irreversible degradation of the environment." Biologist Neil Campbell of the University of California at Riverside has called human population growth "the most significant biological phenomenon on our planet today." Physicist Albert Bartlett of the University of Colorado (Emeritus) has called the mathematics of the exponential function "the world's most important arithmetic." Recently, too, almost 100 Nobel Laureates in science, along with 1400 other top scientists from around the world were signatories to an unprecedented "Urgent Warning To Humanity" in which they warned of (among other things) spiraling population growth. If our students do not know the number of births and deaths on an average day, if they do not thoroughly appreciate the enormous difference between a million and a billion, if they do not understand the deceptive and powerful nature of exponential number sequences, and if they do not understand that ecosystems (and planets) have finite "carrying capacities," they wiil enter the 21st century as functional illiterates in two subject areas (population biology and exponential mathematics) that are changing the world in which we live. The eight lessons in this unit focus on the demographic, mathematic, and numeric knowledge that comprise "What Every Citizen Should Know About Out Planet." Our planet can survive (and our students can lead useful and successful lives) with no knowledge whatsoever concerning the gullet of a paramecium, the latissimus dorsi muscle of a frog, or the revolving nosepiece of a microscope. But as citizens of the 21st century, our students will need (and benefit from) the concepts in this unit -- "What Every Citizen Should Know About Our Planet."

Assessment (help)

(A) Can your students APPLY the understandings learned in this unit to the "real world?" To find out (and to help them develop such "real world" skills, consider a follow-up project involving the following student research and activities: Assign student teams to research a nation and all its characteristics (economic, demographic, political, resources, wildlife, climate, language, employment, etc.) Then the students are to take on the following role: They have been hired by the government of that nation to develop policy recommendations to optimize, insofar as possible, employment, freedom, protection of the wildlife, genetic resources, and the environment, cultural diversity, standard of living, levels of education, and sustainability. (1) Student teams choose a nation and use internet and digital resources to identify its: current population, system of government, per capita income, number of births, annual rate of growth. (2) Have the teams prepare a map, graphs, and a computer or multimedia presentation on the nation selected, identifying its major mountains, rivers, natural resources, cities, natural areas, native wildlife species, national parks, languages, agricultural areas, historical developments to date, etc. (3) Students use their data to: (a) estimate and project future conditions in the nation over the next 30-50 years; (b) make policy recommendations that will feed, clothe, and educate its population, optimize standard of living, health, and employment, minimize waste and depletion of resources, minimize levels of pollution, and maintain the climatic, biological, and genetic integrity of its natural systems. (4) Each team presents its results to the class and identifies their top five policy recommendations, the rationale supporting those recommendations, and the costs and sources of funding associated with implementing the recommendations. (5) Finally, each team should identify two "alternative futures" for the nation: One future should presume that the recommended policies are adopted and implemented -- the second future should presume that the policies are not implemented and existing policies, conditions, and trends continue. You may find the following web-sites useful: www.census.gov and www.cia.gov (B) On-line worksheets will be available for students and instructors to access. (C) Our questions can also be used as the basis of instructor-generated tests. (D) Students can also be assessed on completion of their worksheets, participation in the PowerPoint, participation in follow-up class discussions, etc.

Components (help)

Eight individual lessons comprise this unit: (1) Numeric and demographic literacy (2) Demographic milestones and demographic futures (3) The Global Bus (Carrying capacities and limiting factors) (4) Ecological Services, Extinctions, and Biodiversity (5) Riddles: The World's Most Important Arithmetic (6) Riddles of the Dinoflagellates (Exponential Mathematics) (7) Thin Films: Earth's Atmosphere and Hydrosphere (8) Graph Analysis: The Rise and Fall of a Reindeer Herd Each 50-minute lesson consists of a PowerPoint computer "slide" presentation of 25-to-55 slides and includes a worksheet geared to the presentation.

URLs (help)


Workforce Competencies (info) (help)


Wecskaop 2: Demographic Milestones
Wecskaop 3: Carrying Capacity --The Global Bus
Wecskaop 1: Demographic And Numeric Literacy

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Career Connection to Teaching with Technology
USDOE Technology Innovation Challenge Grant
Marshall Ransom, Project Manager
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