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Ecology: Population Growth Resources

I love teaching about population growth (ecology is one of my favorite subjects to teach). This topic truly leads to so many rich classroom discussions! Pose some questions at your students and see what their thoughts are:

  • Should we monitor wildlife populations, or just late nature take it’s course?
  • Do we have an obligation to try and save endangered species?
  • How many humans is too many?
  • What happens if we surpass our carrying capacity? Have we already? 
  • Are we already in the middle of the 6th mass extinction?

There are many fun ways to dive deeper into population growth with your students, and I’ve compiled a list of lessons, labs, cartoons, and videos all to help you teach this topic. 

Ecological population growth complete lesson

I use this lesson to teach about the two types of growth curves (exponential and logistic), carrying capacity, and limiting factors. Included in this lesson is a 20 slide powerpoint, a writing prompt, student notes page, and exit ticket. 

This cartoon by Stuart McMillen is short, sweet, and easy to understand. I use this cartoon as an introduction and have students read it for bell work before we take notes on logistic and exponential growth, and carrying capacity. Best of all is it’s a true story! One of my favorite things to discuss is the question he poses at the end- How big is our island? Click on the image to check out this cartoon! 

Human population growth video from NPR

I love this video clip from NPR because the visual makes human population growth so easy to see. How many humans do we have on Earth?Where do most of the humans on earth live? What made our population skyrocket 200 years ago? Are we reaching carrying capacity? This two and a half minute clip leads to great conversations about our growing human population. 

Kaibab Deer population growth graphing activity

I use this activity every year since I teach in Arizona. In this activity from, students learn about how populations can crash if they have surpassed carrying capacity. They will learn about the deer on the Kaibab Plateau (near the Grand Canyon), and how game and fish department can manage population sizes to avoid another crash. I also like it because students graph the population data- and graphing practice is always good! 

Duckweed population growth lab

If you have access to duckweed, this lab is easy and fun- no microscopes or fancy equipment needed. Students will examine the population size of duckweed plants over the span of 2-3 weeks, and discuss factors that may limit population size, specifically the addition of an invasive species. You may be able to find duckweed in a pond in your area, so this lab may be free! Click on the image to check out the lab.

In this ADI lab, students have to design an investigation to determine how the size of a yeast population changes over time in response to different variables. It is great practice on designing a controlled experiment and going through the CER process. On the NSTA website, you can download this lab for free, however you must purchase the book in order to get the teacher pages and answer key. 
Warning: In my experience, getting successful data from this lab can be difficult. It is a good idea to have back-up data to provide students that struggle with this lab. 
In this activity, students act as deer and see how limiting factors affect the population.


In this lab, students will see first hand the effects an infectious disease can have on a population. In this lab each student gets a vial with clear liquid (students should wear gloves). One student has the “infected” vial, but it looks the same as all the other vials. As they come into contact with each other, they mix the liquids in their vials. After a few rounds, the teacher adds the indicator solution, and students can see who is infected, and try and deduce which person started the spread of infection. Students always love this lab! Its fun to link back to density dependent vs. independent limiting factors. Click on the image to check out the lab.

I hope you find these resources useful! 
​Rock on,

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Hi, I'm Becca!

I help busy science teachers get your prep back by providing you time saving lessons, labs, and resources.

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