Will the Air Be Clean Enough to Breathe? Measuring Air Quality Activity 2

National Geographic Education The Concord Consortium: High Adventure Science
Type Category
Instructional Materials
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.




Measuring Air Quality is the second activity in a module of six activities.  Students explore the air quality index and factors that contribute to poor air quality events. Students will examine data and models to develop and increase understanding of different sources of air pollution and what happens to pollutants in the atmosphere. Teachers create an account and provide a code for students to use by going to https://learn.concord.org/has. This activity will take approximately 45 minutes.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Grade 10
  • Grade 9
  • Middle School
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

MS-ESS3-3 Apply scientific principles to design a method for monitoring and minimizing a human impact on the environment.

Clarification Statement: Examples of the design process include examining human environmental impacts, assessing the kinds of solutions that are feasible, and designing and evaluating solutions that could reduce that impact. Examples of human impacts can include water usage (such as the withdrawal of water from streams and aquifers or the construction of dams and levees), land usage (such as urban development, agriculture, or the removal of wetlands), and pollution (such as of the air, water, or land).

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
Students work through the activity, reading, viewing and answering embedded questions about air quality, causes of poor air quality including both human-caused and natural. Using current, local data accessed through an included link would be an important part of this performance expectation. The remaining portion of the performance expectation could be included in further instruction of this topic.

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
Activity 2 is focused on introducing air quality as a topic by reviewing the history of air pollution, how it is measured, and how people play a role, as well as natural impacts. Students use evidence from maps of current air pollution and other information to construct an explanation of why air quality varies.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
With only one page focused on human population and the impact on air quality, the educator may want to address this directly with students. This could be done by comparing US cities with rural areas using the referenced sources. More development of this disciplinary core idea could be attained with the use of additional activities in the module of the resource, particularly four and five.

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
Different sources of air pollution are presented as the activity progresses. Students should be asked to discuss additional local sources of air pollution, as well as how air quality impacts them personally, since air quality is an important issue in many locations for a variety of reasons. A possible source for students is https://www.nps.gov/subjects/air/sources.htm. A discussion of the differences between the Current AQI and the Forecast AQI on the AirNow.gov website could include the idea of probability.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: The phenomena of poor air quality is introduced with scenarios eliciting student responses. Students use current data to make predictions about the causes of poor air quality. Students are asked to make sense of further examples while considering additional factors that impact air quality, constructing explanations as they go. Students look at differences in rural and urban areas to address the Disciplinary Core Idea of Human Interactions and the Cross-Cutting Concepts of Cause and Effect. During the online activity students combine all three dimensions as they read, view, interpret, and analyze the data and information presented. Activity 2 works as an introduction to the problem of air pollution. The remaining activities expand on the causes, effects, and the search for solutions. Use of the additional activities of the module would increase alignment and application of 3D Design.

  • Instructional Supports: Students are presented with authentic and relevant examples and data about air quality. Students provide their ideas and opinions throughout the activity by answering embedded questions. These questions are not right or wrong, but allow students to apply what they know with what they have just learned. Teachers are able to access an answer key for suggested answers. Prior learning is incorporated throughout the embedded questions, while introducing additional information as the student progresses through the activity. The data and examples used are scientifically accurate and grade appropriate. There are no explicit modifications for differentiating instruction, however educators could place students in teams to support students as needed. The additional activities of the module would be a method of extending the learning from activity 2 for deeper understanding. Connecting to local examples and recent events would give students a greater connection to the topics of air quality and air pollution, available from the airnow. gov website accessed at the beginning of the activity.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: The embedded questions provide the opportunity to monitor student progress through formative assessment. Registered teachers can access an answer key. A pre and post test are available. Teachers may create accounts so student work is saved and can be printed. Students are directed to use data and models to answer questions, then rate their assurity, and explain why they answered as they did. The vocabulary and examples are unbiased and supportive of a wide variety of student experiences. Educators will want to monitor student progress and not wait for the final summation of answers, as there is nothing built in to the activity to indicate student understanding or that development of ideas is progressing. Directing the whole class through the first activity from Concord Consortium prior to using activity 2 may enable more students to successfully navigate additional activities and modules independently.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: This online activity is easy to use, but does not respond to student answers to create individualized learning. There are no problems progressing through the lesson, however instructions are not completely clear and students need to understand when they are being asked to respond in writing and when they are being asked to thoughtfully consider information and ideas. The lesson does not incorporate any gaming features, such as points. Students could work in pairs, if needed, for accessibility or limited electronic access.