An Exponential Debate!

As I have done in the past several years, I ended my recent unit on exponential functions and logarithms with a debate that involved exponential growth. The debate (featured in my book Up for Debate!), centers around the question:

Which is the greater threat: Overpopulation or Outbreak?

Students work in groups to look at data on the population of the earth in years and the spread of Ebola, in months. They use the data to create exponential functions to model the exponential growth (if unimpeded) of each, and then they use those models to make predictions about overpopulation and outbreaks. Each group then provides a summary what they think is the bigger threat with the class.

I was so excited to be doing this activity again this year, as we are in the middle of an outbreak (Covid-19), and students have a more tangible sense of the spread and the consequences.

What I find so interesting is:

In past years students almost always said that overpopulation is the bigger concern. They stated that an outbreak can always be controlled by modern medicine and quarantining and other measures, but they argued that our population will continue to grow and there isn’t an easy way to slow that.

However, this year, the majority of the groups cited an outbreak as the bigger threat. They cited closures and death rates and stay-at-home orders, as they’re experiencing these first-hand.

It was clear the current climate weighs heavy on their minds, and I look forward to debriefing with them further next class!


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