I Breathe WHAT??

TeachEngineering: authors Ben Heavner, Melissa Straten, Malinda Schaefer Zarske, Janet Yowell
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Activity , Experiment/Lab 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.



In this lesson, students place "pollution detectors" at various locations near their school capture and examine the air particles they collect to get an idea how much dust, pollen and other particulate matter is present in the air around them. Students share their data, create a map with details of their findings, and hypothesize as to why some locations have more particles than others. They explore why engineers count particulate matter when observing air quality.

Resources provided include the lesson plan, materials list, a student worksheet, a post-activity assessment, and extension activities. The teacher may want to include the previous activity in TeachEngineering curriculum “The Air We Breathe” at https://www.teachengineering.org/lessons/view/cub_enveng_lesson07 as well as the next activity “Cleaning the Air” - https://www.teachengineering.org/activities/view/cub_enveng_lesson07_activity2 to provide a fuller picture of human impact on Earth. 

The lesson should take 2-3 class periods. Ideally the pollution detectors should be left in place for a couple of days, or at least 24 hours minimum.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Grade 6
  • Grade 7
  • Grade 8
  • 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 determine good locations for placement of an air quality monitoring device to study human impact in their school environment. They gather and analyze data from 3 samples by looking under a microscope and counting the visible number of particles, examining the particles, and sketching and describing them in detail. The teacher assists with a compilation of the class data and asks students to hypothesize about the source of the particles. Students map the location and details of the data collected in one large map for display. In the extension section, students are asked about changes in levels of particles throughout the day and possible causes. To address the part of the Performance Expectation on minimizing human impact on the environment, the teacher can question the students about possible sources of the pollution they detected. They could also discuss which particles are the result of human activity and ways that the impact of that activity could be reduced. The teacher could also do the next activity in the TeachEngineering curriculum “Cleaning the Air.” https://www.teachengineering.org/activities/view/cub_enveng_lesson07_activity2 which addresses minimizing human impact on the environment in a closed building.

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 gather, analyze and interpret data to provide evidence for airborne particles. They analyze the number of particles in 3 samples from their site and sketch and describe 3 different particles after examining them in a microscope.

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
In the Pre-Assessment activity, students discuss possible air particle emissions that are created by humans. After students have collected samples and analyze them, they hypothesize about the source of the particles. Teachers and students may want to access https://www.nature.nps.gov/air/AQBasics/sources.cfm for further information on air particle pollution types and sources. To address the increase of human populations and per-capita consumption of natural resources, the teacher may want to include the activity found at https://populationeducation.org/sites/default/files/watch_your_step.pdf which is also reviewed on the NGSS@NSTA classroom resources page at http://ngss.nsta.org/Curator/ViewResource.aspx?ResourceID=752. To address the activities and technologies that are engineered to reduce impact, the teacher may want to follow this lesson with “Cleaning the Air” described in the introductory Description section above.

Crosscutting Concepts

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

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Students select three sections of the same size from their pollution detector, count the number of particles in each and find the average. They exchange information with other groups and find areas with more or less particles to describe air pollution patterns near their school. If students do the extension activity on air pollution related to time of day, they could examine rates of change. They can also investigate rates of change between data points either by extrapolating the data, or looking for patterns in the data the class has gathered.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: The lesson builds understanding of grade-appropriate elements of the Disciplinary Core Ideas, Science and Engineering Practices and Crosscutting Concepts, but the three dimensions aren’t integrated unless the teacher follows the suggestions made in the sections above. The inclusion of the three dimensions aids students in making sense of the phenomena of air pollution around their school. The Disciplinary Core Idea relating consumption of natural resources to negative impacts on Earth is addressed indirectly using the Science and Engineering Practice of analyzing and interpreting data and the Crosscutting Concept of using patterns in numerical relationships to provide information about natural systems. Students gather and analyze information from their detection devices, summarize class results in a map, and hypothesize the source of the particles. The lesson doesn’t address students’ prior experiences related to the air pollution, but they gather data in their school community, so it is a relevant experience.

  • Instructional Supports: The lesson engages students in an authentic and meaningful scenario that reflect the practice of science and engineering as experienced in the real world. They experience the science phenomena of air pollution firsthand. The lesson connects to their community and provides opportunities for students to hypothesize about possible explanations of the air pollution. Students discuss their class results, represent their results in a map of the school area, and develop possible interpretations of the source of the particles. Students aren’t asked to justify their thinking or to respond to peer and teacher feedback. Prior student learning is not examined except during a class discussion. Scientifically accurate information for the types of particles is not provided, although exploring sources of the air pollution and its composition is addressed briefly in the Post-Activity Assessment and Activity Extensions. The lesson does not provide guidance for differentiating instruction. The teacher could assign students to groups so they can assist each other with constructing the device, analyzing the data, hypothesizing about the sources, and mapping their results. Extensions for students with high interest or who have already met the performance expectations to develop deeper understanding of the practices, disciplinary core ideas, and crosscutting concepts are provided.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: The lesson provides an opportunity for students to gather and analyze data and to look for patterns to develop an understanding of air pollution around their school. Students use the worksheet to gather data and make sense of phenomena through class discussion and the construction of a map of their results. However, the lesson doesn’t elicit direct, observable evidence of three-dimensional learning. Formative assessment to inform instruction is limited to the answers students provide during discussion and on the worksheet. The teacher would need to monitor progress by individuals and groups through careful observation. No rubrics or scoring guidelines that provide guidance for interpreting student performance are provided. Answers to some of the discussion questions are provided. No measures are included for providing ongoing feedback to students. The tasks and worksheets are accessible and unbiased for all students. A post-assessment directs the teacher to lead a class discussion about their findings, hypothesize and determine ways to test their hypotheses.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: No technological interactivity is required to complete the lesson.