What's Up There Besides Air?
December 2020
Background Information
Grade: 5
Subject: Science, Language Arts
NGSS (DCI) Connections: ESS3.C
Time: 1 to 2 Class Periods
Student Objectives
Define air pollution
Demonstrate the presence of air
pollution in the air around us
Hypothesize on the sources of air
pollution in the air around us
Notebook and pencil for each student
A milk carton for each student, team or
group of students
Double-sided carpet tape
Waterproof marker
Directional compass
Magnifying glass
Colored pencils, markers or crayons
Flashlight (optional)
Posters (optional)
Clean air is healthy for us to breathe. However, air
can become polluted - that is, contaminated with
particles and gases that are not supposed to be
there - making the air dirty and unhealthy. In
general, air pollution is any visible or invisible
particle or gas found in the air that is not part of the
normal composition of air.
Some air pollution is from natural causes, but
much of it comes from man-made sources such as
cars, factories, fires, and products that we use. It is
important to note that both indoor air and outdoor
air can be polluted. This lesson is focused on
outdoor air. Air pollutants can be in one of two
forms: particulate or gaseous. Particle pollution is
in the form of small solids or droplets. Dust, smoke,
sand, ash, smog and pollen are examples of particle
pollution. Particle pollution is often easy for us to
notice because it can make the air look dirty or
smell unusual. Sometimes we can see particle
pollution when it settles out of the air and
accumulates on surfaces - our cars can be covered
with yellow pollen, outdoor surfaces can be covered
with dust and statues can become dirty from
deposited soot.
Gaseous air pollutants are in the form of a gas:
carbon monoxide, radon, ozone, and sulfur dioxide
are a few examples. Some gaseous pollutants are
invisible and odorless, making them more difficult to
detect than particle pollution. Two such pollutants
are carbon monoxide and radon.
Adapted from the Air and Waste Management Association
Environmental Resource Guide for Air Quality
Air Quality Flag

Background Info (Cont.)
Others are more obvious because we can
smell them or immediately feel their effects.
Gaseous pollutants can combine with water vapor
and other elements to create other pollutants.
For example, ozone is created by an interaction of
volatile organic compounds (VOCs), nitrogen
oxides, natural atmospheric gases, and sunlight.
How do we know when air pollutants are
present? As mentioned previously, sometimes
we can see them or smell them. Other times we
might experience noticeable effects of the
pollutants, such as difficulty breathing when
there's a lot of ozone in the air or watery eyes
when there is excessive pollen in the air. We rely
on technology, government agencies, the news
media and social media to inform us of the air
quality conditions or forecast.
Setting the Stage
What is Air Pollution?
 Students will discover ways in which they
can tell that the air is polluted, learn that
there are both particulate and gaseous air
pollutants, and define (in their own
words) the term air pollution.
	The class will take a "walking" field trip
outside in the area around the school or
learning environment. Each student should
have a notebook and pencil or pen for
recording their observations. (NOTE: This
does not work as well immediately after a
rain, because the air and surfaces have been
cleansed of most air pollution.)
	Before going outside, students should respond
to the following in their notebooks using the
NASA Kids air pollution site
o What causes air pollution ? (solid and liquid
particles and gases suspended/floating in
the air)
o Why is it important to keep track of
pollutants in the air? (because they can be
harmful to people and the environment)
	Now take the students outside. Have
students "smell" the air. Ask them if it smells
clean, the way it does right after it rains, or if
they can detect any other smells. Ask
students to record what they smell in their
	Ask students to look at the air, both
right around them and toward the
horizon. Is it clear or hazy? Ask them to
record their observations in their

Setting the Stage (Cont.)
	Have students inspect objects in the
vicinity to see if they can find any
physical evidence of air pollutants
(stationary objects that collect dust,
dirt, etc.) and record their descriptions
in their notebooks.
	When they have finished the field trip,
return to the classroom and ask the
students to share their findings. Ask them
the following questions:
o Do you think polluted air always
contains the same pollutants? (No)
What observations tell you this?
(Deposited pollutants look different,
sometimes I sneeze when I go
outside and sometimes I don't, etc.)
o Do you think air pollutants are
particles or gases? Why? (They can
be either. Some we can see; some
we can smell.)
o You mentioned several things that you
smelled or saw that let you know the
air contained pollutants. Which
indicate the presence of particulate air
pollutants and which indicate the
presence of gaseous air pollutants?
(Deposited particles indicate
particulate pollutants; smells indicate
gaseous or particulate pollutants.)
	Ask students to write a definition of the
term "air pollution" in their notebooks.
Catching Particle Pollutants
Students will collect particle pollutants to
demonstrate the presence of particle pollution
in the air around them. Have the students
follow these steps to create particle pollution
1.	Wrap a piece of double-sided carpet tape
around the middle of the milk carton.
2.	On the four "sides" of the carton, write the
directions north (N), south (S), east (E),
and west (W). Make sure that students
have the carton labeled in the correct
3.	Label the catchers 1, 2, 3, etc.
4.	Place the cartons in various spots around
the school, using the compass to make
sure that N is facing north, etc. (NOTE:
Write on the bottom of carton the location
where it is placed.) Make a list showing
where each catcher was placed.
5.	Have students write their predictions
about which side will "collect" more
pollutants and explain their rationale.
6.	After a few days, collect the cartons and
examine them. On a chart write the
location where the carton was placed, how
much particulate matter was stuck to the
tape, what it looked like (use a magnifying
glass), and the direction from which the
majority of the pollutants came, etc.
Adapted from the Air and Waste Management Association
Environmental Resource Guide for Air Quality

 Create and
 Create and
share a simple map that shows all the
locations where the cartons were placed,
with potential pollutant sources
identified (traffic, pollen sources,
factories, etc.)
	Use colored pencils, markers, or crayons,
to indicate the relative amount of
particulate matter "collected" at each of
the locations. This can be done as a group
or students can individually create these
	Discuss possible reasons more particles
were caught in some locations than in
others (proximity to road, exposure,
wind direction, etc.).
	Have students write a paragraph in their
notebooks that lays out the observed air
pollutants and hypothesizes on where
they may have originated.
	Turn off the lights in the room. Ask the students
if they think that the air in the classroom is
clean. Shine a bright flashlight in the dark room
and ask students to observe what they see
around the beam of light. Have each student
draw and describe in writing what they saw.
Discuss their findings. Ask the students what
senses were used and what senses were not
used and why.
	Have the students make a collage using pictures
cut from magazines. On one half of the paper,
glue pictures of people or things polluting the
air. On the other half, show pictures of people
cleaning up and taking care of the earth.
	Have students write a cinquain (5-line stanza) on
the topic of air pollution.
	Have students work in groups to create a "Don't
Pollute" poster. They can make up their own
catchy slogan. Display the posters around the
	Have the students create an opinion survey and
ask older students or adults what they think are
the biggest contributors to air pollution. Have
the students record only what that individual
thinks is the largest contributor. Have the
students bring the results back to class and
discuss their findings.
Adapted from the Air and Waste Management Association
Environmental Resource Guide for Air Quality