Pollution Patrol

Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers as part of TryEngineering
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Activity , Lesson/Lesson Plan
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.


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Most Recent Review

3 The correct link

Here is the new link to the activity: https://tryengineering.org/teacher/pollution-patrol/


In the Pollution Patrol lesson, students work in teams to design and build their own outdoor air pollution detectors out of everyday items. They design, refine and then test their air pollution detectors, and then see how many particulate pollutants they capture with their devices at various locations around their school. They record and evaluate their results, and present their design process and results to the class. A teacher’s guide with a suggested materials list is available in PDF format. Student Resource sheets provide information on air pollution, particulate matter, particulate matter counters, and rating air quality. Student worksheet pages include directions for the planning, construction, testing, and evaluating phases of the design process as well as questions about the overall process and student results. The lesson should take 2-3 forty-five minute sessions. The author states the lesson is appropriate for ages 8-18, although it most closely aligns with middle school expectations.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Upper Elementary
  • High School
  • Grade 8
  • Grade 7
  • Grade 6
  • Middle School
Access Restrictions

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

Performance Expectations

MS-ETS1-1 Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions

Clarification Statement: none

Assessment Boundary: none

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

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
Some of the criteria and constraints for designing the air pollution detector are provided, but students are given leeway to make the design fit their local environment and their engineering skills. They decide which locations around their school should be tested and describe what other materials they would like to use in future designs. Applicable scientific principles are discussed in the Performance Expectation section. To meet the last portion of the Performance Expectation, which doesn’t match this engineering task, the teacher could ask students about potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions when they share and discuss possible methods of reducing air pollution around their school.

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 use various scientific and engineering principles to design a system to monitor air pollution. Scientific principles are supported by multiple pieces of evidence and are consistent with scientific ideas and theories. Working in teams they use the principles of engineering to build, test, and share their design. They use the instrument and collect data on particulate matter in locations around their school, analyze the amount and type of particles, and create an air quality scale to represent the data. Student Resource sheets provide information on air pollution, particulate matter, particulate matter counters, and rating air quality. This information is a bit limited, teachers may want to provide more in-depth information. Students present suggestions for reducing human environmental impacts on air pollution around their school, and assess solutions that are feasible to reduce that impact. To broaden the scope of the project, students could be asked to generalize their suggestions to include their community and region. Links to a couple of resources, the Environmental Protection Agency and the World Health Organization websites, on air quality, are provided to assist with generalizations.

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
In this lesson, students work in groups to design an air pollution detector that meets certain criteria using the materials provided by the teacher. They present their design to the rest of the class and revise their plan after receiving feedback. The students construct the detector, making additional changes to their design as needed or as new ideas emerge in the process. The designs are tested by placing the detectors in various locations near their school. Data is collected on the type of particulate matter and the rate of air pollution. Students develop a scale to rate air quality at the locations tested. Teams evaluate their results and present their findings to the class. To address the design of a system and authentic scales of air quality, the students could research systems used by the Environmental Protection Agency to monitor air quality at https://www3.epa.gov/airdata/ad_basic.html#other.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

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

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Working in teams, the students plan an initial design for an air pollution detector which is shared with the class. After gathering feedback from their classmates, they can reconfigure their design. As they build the detector, they can redesign and rebuild as well. As part of the evaluation of the design and classroom presentations, the students are asked to describe designs/methods used by other teams that seemed to work well. It is suggested that the lesson be extended over the school year for additional data analysis. Redesigning the detector based on test results could be part of the process, although new designs could invalidate earlier data.

This resource was not designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The focus of the activity is on quantifying data within the school grounds by building a device. Teachers will need to revise the lesson plan to focus on the Core Idea. The student resource pages include information about the sources of air pollution such as vehicles and power plants. It is pointed out that cities with large populations have issues with smog. The resource also describes how air quality is rated in various locations worldwide. The teacher would need to ask questions about human population size and per-capita consumption of natural resources to help students make the connection that as these increase, so do the negative impacts on Earth. The teacher may want to ask students to conduct research about possible activities and technologies that can reduce air pollution. Sources suggested include the Environmental Protection Agency website.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
After setting the air pollution detectors in various locations around the school and leaving them for 72 hours, students analyze the results. They graph findings for the various locations, look for patterns in their results, and create a scale to rate air quality for the locations. Students could compare this to particulate matter data from an interactive map of a local EPA air monitoring station at https://www3.epa.gov/airdata/ad_maps.html. Although the scales aren’t the same, the students are gathering data in a manner similar to the EPA. In order to answer the final question on the Student Worksheet, the students would need to identify the cause of the air pollution by studying the patterns and the types of particulate matter and describe possible solutions for reducing the amount of air pollution.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: The lesson Pollution Patrol combines Earth Science and Engineering Disciplinary Core Ideas in an activity addressing human impact on the environment and designing an instrument to measure that impact in locations around their school. Looking for the Crosscutting Concept of Patterns in their findings requires that students also use cause and effect and analyzing data. The Science and Engineering Practices of constructing explanations and designing solutions is used as well, as planning and carrying out an investigation, and communicating information. The teacher should ask students to determine the source of the pollution patterns they see around the school. For example, they might expect to see more dust particles near a dust track or see more vehicle emission particulates near a parking lot/bus drop-off area.

  • Instructional Supports: The lesson engages students in a meaningful scenario that reflects the practice of both science and engineering in the real world. The context of investigating their own environment motivates students to use engineering design practices and earth science core ideas. They respond to peer feedback as they design their air pollution detector. They gather data, make sense of it and suggest possible solutions for reducing the amount of particulate matter near their schools. Students present their findings to the class. Students could build on prior knowledge throughout the school year if the monitoring is conducted periodically as suggested. No guidance is provided for differentiated learning, although students work in groups building and testing their model and analyzing results. Suggestions for differentiating the lesson include assigning roles within the teams of students to provide options for students with special needs. The student resource pages can be modified by highlighting key points or by reading the document aloud. The lesson plan suggests writing a letter to a local politician about ways to reduce local pollution as an extension activity.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: The lesson elicits direct, observable evidence of three-dimensional learning as students design an air pollution detector, gather data, and make sense of local phenomena. The student worksheet provides questions to help students design a class presentation. While there are multiple opportunities for the teacher to observe student progress, no suggestions for assessing student growth are available, although the teacher can collect and score the worksheet. No rubrics for the presentation are included. The teacher could design a rubric to score student presentations based on the questions in the student worksheet. Formative assessment techniques such as exit slips could gather data on student progress.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: No interaction with technology is required for completing the lesson.