Air, A Gas

Sue Doubler, Sarah Michaels Harold MacWilliams
Type Category
Assessment Materials Instructional Materials
Assessment Item , Curriculum , Lesson/Lesson Plan , Unit
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.



In this instructional sequence students investigate air to better model and understand how it is a form of matter, has weight, and takes up space like solids and liquids, but is invisible because the particles are spread too far apart. Students will learn through investigations that gas can be "squished" into a very small space or expand to fill much larger spaces.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Grade 5
Access Restrictions

- none -

Performance Expectations

5-PS1-1 Develop a model to describe that matter is made of particles too small to be seen.

Clarification Statement: Examples of evidence could include adding air to expand a basketball, compressing air in a syringe, dissolving sugar in water, and evaporating salt water.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include the atomic-scale mechanism of evaporation and condensation or defining the unseen particles.

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this performance expectation, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
Students develop an annotated drawing (model) in the second investigation. After students create their models consider having students partner or work in groups of three or four and come up with one consensus model that answers the question, “How do you explain the difference in the compressibility of air and water? What would you see at the particle level to explain what is going on?” Students could then come together in a scientists meeting to discuss their models. Teacher might then use one of the larger models to begin the next investigation ( #15).

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Students are explicitly instructed to explain their thinking around the what is happening in the syringes of water and air. They do this through the use of annotated drawings. There needs to be a direct connection made between the annotated drawings and the idea that they are “modeling” their thinking and then “using” that models to help them move forward in their thinking. In investigation #15 students zero in on their models and do their first revision after discussing them with teacher guidance in order to move the learning forward. After more investigations students develop their individual models of their thinking in the annotated drawings. Students are also introduced to and “use” a computer model the “particle mgnifier “ in Investigation #15 and #16.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Particle magnifier computer activity provides an excellent example of particle movement. Students could also be asked to work in teams to demonstrate the differences in particle movement among solids, liquids, and gases. They could use their bodies (each person being one particle) in a kinesthetic activity in the gym or outdoors. This activity could be completed after the particle magnifier activity as an informal summative assessment. Teacher could add to the activity by changing temperature requirement for teams.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
During investigation #15 when students are exploring with the particle magnifier they are seeing how movement of the particles is affected by temperature. Guided discussions include the idea that standard units help us better understand phenomena such as temperature and particle motion in water and air. A discussion could also include the two temperature scales.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: The majority of the components of three dimensional learning are evident within this resource. Use of the provided tips and websites such as NGSS@NSTA can be very helpful in making this resource more aligned to NGSS.

  • Instructional Supports: The instructional supports provided by this resource are phenomenal. The resources provided by this site include focusing questions, samples of student work, student notebook pages, and many more.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Formative assessments are suggested at the beginning of each investigation on the right side of the page .The Science Concept Cartoon “air has weight can be used for a final assessment. A final revised annotated drawing explaining students thinking about what ater/air looks like when expanded or compressed.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: - none -