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Finding and Explaining Patterns in Student Responses

Cara
Question 1: Which countries have populations that are increasing in size? What effects might
these increases have on the environment?
Mexico’s population is increasing in size. These increases can cause the environment to
not have enough space.
Question 2: Using the information given to you about Detroit, create an age structure

graph and describe its growth pattern. (http://detroit.areaconnect.com/statistics.htm)
The population is slow growing because the middle is larger than the bottom meaning that the
birth rates are low.

Question 3:
1. This graph shows that the population of Germany at the time was experiencing a:

a. Slow population growth
2. Which of the following reasons most likely explains the pattern you observed?
a. The number of adults exceeds the number of older citizens who are ages 75 and
up
Analysis of responses:
In Cara’s response to our assessment question, she lists only one of the three countries we
had in mind when writing the question about which countries are growing. This is interesting
because the question explicitly asks which countries are growing, not asking for just one.
However, she is correct in identifying that Mexico’s population size is increasing. She also
identifies that a growing population can cause an environment to lose space, but she doesn’t
completely describe what this means. Does this mean the country that the people are living in
won’t have space for humans or for the organisms that originally lived in that environment? Cara
is not very explicit with her response, which makes me wonder how much she understands about
human impacts on the environment. It’s important to note that we did not make this connection as
a class when the students were expected to turn in this homework, however we wanted to see if
the students could connect the two ideas of large human populations, and the affect they have on
the carrying capacity of the surrounding environment. Looking at her answer to this question, it’s
clear that we will have to draw clear connections to ensure her understanding that human
population growth can have certain impacts on the surrounding environment, and list what these
impacts actually are.
When looking at Cara’s response to Mrs. Newell’s assessment question, it is clear that she
understands how to construct an age structure graph appropriately, and also, she understands how
to use that graph to identify and explain the growth of the population. In the picture of her graph
above, you can clearly see that she has constructed an age structure graph with a slow growth
pattern, and has identified it as such. From this it is clear that Cara understands how to properly
calculate the percentages of each age group in a population, and then transfer these percentages to
create an age structure graph.
For Gail’s assessment question, Cara got both answers correct on her quiz. This indicates
to me that she understands how to read an age structure graph, and identify what the shape
indicates about its growth pattern. She did this by identifying that Germany is exhibiting a slow
growth pattern. Then, she chose the correct answer as to what made this true of the graph. By
selecting that the number of middle-aged people exceeded the number of people aged 75+ shows
that she could read the graph to see this pattern. Additionally, it also indicates that she can
identify that, in order for the population of Germany to exhibit slow growth, the number of
middle-aged people must exceed the number of older people in the population.
Overall, looking at Cara’s answers, it seems as though she definitely understands the
construction of an age structure graph, as well as, how to interpret one in order to identify the
growth pattern. However, I don’t think that she truly understands how a growing population can
affect the environment. Although, I don’t find this to be her fault. Jess and I used this question in
order to probe them to think about how a population, especially one exhibiting rapid growth,
might affect the surrounding environment and its resources. We did this because we were going to
be moving into a unit on conservation biology, so we wanted them to make a connection to large
human population sizes and the environment a little bit earlier, tying in their understanding of

carrying capacities. However, in hindsight, I don’t think this was a good question to have asked,
or rather used as a fair assessment question. This is because the students didn’t really have any
prior knowledge on the subject, or enough to get the answers that we wanted from them.

Sam
Question 1: Which countries have populations that are increasing in size? What effects might
these increases have on the environment?
He did not respond to this question
Question 2: Using the information given to you about Detroit, create an age structure

graph and describe its growth pattern. (http://detroit.areaconnect.com/statistics.htm)
It seems as though the middle ages (25-54) have the highest percent. I would call this a
slow growth population because the middle ages have the highest percent. The low ages and the
highest ages are lower like 0-5%.
**Sam did not create an age structure graph

Question three:
1. This graph shows that the population of Germany at the time was experiencing a
a. Slow growth
2. 2. Which of the following reasons most likely explains the pattern you observed?
a. The number of children is equal to the number of citizens ages 75 and up
Analysis of Sam’s Responses
For our assessment question, Sam did not answer it. I don’t think this is because he did
not know the answers, but that he forgot to do it completely. He normally gets all of his work in
on time, with all of it done. Instead, he turned in the homework assignment with only two of the
four questions completed. For this reason, I cannot analyze his response to our question.
However, he did answer Mrs. Newell’s question, as well as, Gail’s.

For Mrs. Newell’s question, Sam correctly identified the graph to be slow growth. He
describes that since the middle-aged group has the highest percentage of the population, and that
the lower and higher ages make up about 0-5%, then it is slow growth. Both of these descriptions
are true of the graph, and also true of populations exhibiting slow growth, so his statements
indicate to me that he understands how to read an age structure and identify if a population shows
slow growth. However, he did not create a graph, so I do not know if he is able to take the
calculated percentages (that he shows he knows how to find) and translate them to a graph of his
own.
When looking at Gail’s assessment question, Sam correctly identifies that the growth of
the German population is slow, however, the explanation he chose is not the most correct. In a
slow growth population, the number of children and the number older citizens may be equal, and
their overall percentage of the entire population would be smaller than the population of middleaged people. However, this graph does not show that. It shows that the older and younger
populations are smaller than the middle-aged population, but the older and younger populations
are not equal. This indicates to me that Sam applied his knowledge of what a slow growth age
structure graph should look like, but that he did not interpret this new graph completely correctly.

Joe
Question 1: Which countries have populations that are increasing in size? What effects might
these increases have on the environment?
India, Mexico and Nigeria; bad effects
Question 2: Using the information given to you about Detroit, create an age structure

graph and describe its growth pattern. (http://detroit.areaconnect.com/statistics.htm)
Joe did not write what type of growth the age structure showed, however he did create a graph.

Question 3:
1. This graph shows that the population of Germany at the time was experiencing a
a. Slow growth
2. 2. Which of the following reasons most likely explains the pattern you observed?
a. The number of adults exceeds the number of older citizens ages 75 and up

In the response to our question, Joe accurately identifies the three countries that we aimed
for the students to list as the countries that were growing in size. However, as indicated
above, the wording of this question was poor, and we would have accepted more answers. We
should have asked, “Which of the nine countries are growing at a rapid rate? What are some
impacts this fast growth might have on the surrounding environment?” Although, Joe
correctly identified which countries are growing, he does not give any specifics on how this
growth will affect the surrounding environment. He does state that it will have a bad affect,
but gives no further explanation. Again, as I wrote when analyzing Cara’s work, part of the
issue in the students’ answers to this question is due to poor selection of the content that we
decided we wanted the students to take away. This I will write more about in my
improvements section because I now think that this question and our focus objective should
be changed based upon the analysis of student work.
For Joe’s response to Mrs. Newell’s question, he does not analyze what the structure of
the graph indicates, but he does create a graph (albeit without labels). Joe accurately
calculates the percentages of each age group in the population, and then he correctly
translates this information to a graph to show the structure. Although the axes aren’t labeled,
he drew the bars in the correct areas, and labels the numbers on the x-axis that corresponds to
each bar. This shows me that he can create a graph using given numbers, but I’m not sure he
can then interpret the graph to describe population growth.
However, when looking at Joe’s response to Gail’s question, it appears that he knows
how to analyze a graph. He correctly describes the graph of Germany to show a population
with slow growth. Joe also selects the best answer that describes the shape of the graph “the
number of adults exceeds the number of older citizens ages 75 and up”. Since Joe chooses the
correct response to both questions, I believe that he does understand how to analyze and
explain an age structure graph. Perhaps when answering Mrs. Newell’s question he did not
complete his homework in time, which would make a lot of sense with Joe. He doesn’t
always turn his homework in on time, or will turn it in partially completed.