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Turning Databases into Lesson Plans: Global Demographics

With a swift click of a few keys, anyone with access to the Internet has a deep collection of global demographics at their fingertips. These free databases are an excellent way for teachers to introduce students to the basics of researching, analyzing and presenting data-heavy research projects. Providing students with a basic toolkit in how to mine these sources will open up great opportunities for learning. Through these databases you can provide students with a basic framework on how to use the materials, and tell a story through their research findings. As a teacher you can leave the majority of the decisions up to the students with assurance that there is enough content for any one research topic. This guide will outline the best databases on the web, as well as projects, assignments and lessons based on the resources provided. With such a deep pool of information these ideas will help you get started, but the possibilities in the classroom are endless.

CIA World Factbook

Produced semi-annually since 1980, the data from the CIA World Factbook is another wonderful source for student projects. This is a great resource to begin with as the user guide is easy to navigate, and can provide a framework from which students can understand how these sites function.

Country profiles include basic information on demographics as well as maps, anthems, flags and country comparisons. When students select a country, a tab unfolds providing information on topics such as the economy, energy, communication, education, government and more. If you want to leave your students with an open-ended assignment consider letting them peruse one or more of these sites to choose a country they find interesting and create a country profile presentation. Open-ended assignments often encourage students to explore, which will allow them to come to their own conclusions on the best way to use these resources.

The World Bank

As an international financial institution, which processes large amounts of data, the World Bank database is particularly relevant for students who want to study demographics through an economic lens. With an overall mission to alleviate poverty, the World Bank believes strongly in the power of information. Comprehensive data sets for countries around the world are easily accessible. Organized by topic students can choose from poverty, education, health, infrastructure and many others. Within each topic are datasets on important indicators. Education, for example, has a sub-heading for literacy, and degree attainment, which break-out statistics by country. Narrowing down a research project by topic is a great start. One idea is to ask students to draft a research project using a database to illustrate the differences in poverty and wealth distribution in the world. If each student, or team of students, selects a different country to represent, then the class as a whole can represent how resources are distributed among the global community. This guide provides more activity ideas on illustrating the differences between resource poor and rich countries.

Population Reference Bureau

With interactive maps, and interesting infographics, the Population Reference Bureau PRB is a site sure to catch your students’ attention. Its home page features a number of data sets, and information around the theme, “The world at 7 billion” which is a great starting point for any number of class projects. To start the conversation off, consider showing the “7 Billion and Counting” video, which describes how a growing population and changing demographics may change the world as we know it today. The world population data sheets are another way to get students talking as they provide a quick snapshot by year, on key demographics, such as birth/death rates, health, environment and age. A tab at the top of the page has a number of great educator resources including the Distilled Demographics video series which highlights key demographic concepts such as fertility, mortality, and migration in 10 minutes. There are lesson plans, charts, graphs, powerpoint presentations and guidebooks to present students with key demographic concepts on several engaging platforms.

World Health Organization

World Health Organization (WHO) database is easy to navigate, and illustrated through maps and charts that direct attention to the most interesting findings. The site has access to 50 datasets on health topics ranging from child nutrition, sanitation and equity among many others. With access to the annual World Health Statistics Report on the health-related data for its 194 member states, the WHO site is often the most up-to-date resource for basic health demographic information on the web. Each of the topics include supplemental information on reports, maps, tables and other analysis. While there is a deep amount of information, the WHO site often provides links to other sites, which will take the student to another location. By walking students through this upon introduction, you can clear up any confusion students might experience as they begin their research. By helping students understand the drastic demographic differences around the world, you are opening up their minds to new ideas and concepts. You are also helping them develop important online research skills, which are increasingly important and marketable form of expertise in the marketplace. More and more data is accessible on the web, and the ability to understand, evaluate and use that data to tell a bigger story is a powerful tool for your students to have.

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