Curricular Unit: Air Pollution

Contributed by: Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado at Boulder

Quick Look

Grade Level: 5 (4-6)

Choose From: 10 lessons and 32 activities

Subject Areas: Earth and Space, Physical Science, Science and Technology

A photograph shows air pollution being released from three smokestacks.
Students explore the sources and effects of visible and invisible air pollution.
copyright
Copyright © Owen Bryne, Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/ojbyrne/2167696800

Summary

Students are introduced to the concept of air quality by investigating the composition, properties, atmospheric layers and everyday importance of air. They explore the sources and effects of visible and invisible air pollution. By learning some fundamental meteorology concepts (air pressure, barometers, prediction, convection currents, temperature inversions), students learn the impact of weather on air pollution control and prevention. Looking at models and maps, they explore the consequences of pollutant transport via weather and water cycles. Students are introduced to acids, bases and pH, and the environmental problem of acid rain, including how engineers address this type of pollution. Using simple models, they study the greenhouse effect, the impact of increased greenhouse gases on the planet's protective ozone layer and the global warming theory. Students explore the causes and effects of the Earth's ozone holes through an interactive simulation. Students identify the types and sources of indoor air pollutants in their school and home, evaluating actions that can be taken to reduce and prevent poor indoor air quality. By building and observing a few simple models of pollutant recovery methods, students explore the modern industrial technologies designed by engineers to clean up and prevent air pollution.
This engineering curriculum meets Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

With the vast number of cars on our roads combined with the pollutant-emitting factories that are in use, further combined with the not-so-clean daily living habits of our Earth's inhabitants, air pollution is a huge concern for engineers. And, it is becoming an even bigger concern as we continue to learn more about the adverse health effects of poor air quality. Engineers investigate the source and effect of air pollution on people and their environment, and do their best to both prevent it and clean it up.

Engineers play a huge part in preventing smog and visible particulate matter pollution so our air is safe to breathe. And, engineers continue to explore new, creative ideas to actually lower the emissions into the air, such as designing more efficient vehicles and filters to reduce the amount of particulate matter released into the atmosphere. One of the biggest challenges engineers face is devising new techniques to prevent and reduce the creation of additional air pollution from manufacturing and industry of our modern world. Therefore, the modern engineer always keeps long-term sustainability in mind as a design objective.

Environmental and chemical engineers examine pollutants to determine the kind of impact it may have on human health and the environment. In response, engineers develop useful technologies to alleviate pollution sources, such as catalytic converters that remove certain poisonous gases from vehicle exhaust fumes. Other engineers re-design vehicles and factories to reduce the emissions that cause greenhouse gases. Others are working to change manufacturing processes, regulations and practices, in an effort to clean up many chemical sources.

So, engineers must be creative in designing new technologies that clean up and prevent air pollution so that we have a comfortable and safe environment in which to live. Thanks to engineers, we can breathe safely!

Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (www.achievementstandards.org).

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

NGSS Performance Expectation

Ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures over the past century. (Grades 6 - 8 ) More Details

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This Performance Expectation focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Ask questions to identify and clarify evidence of an argument.

Alignment agreement:

Human activities, such as the release of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, are major factors in the current rise in Earth's mean surface temperature (global warming). Reducing the level of climate change and reducing human vulnerability to whatever climate changes do occur depend on the understanding of climate science, engineering capabilities, and other kinds of knowledge, such as understanding of human behavior and on applying that knowledge wisely in decisions and activities.

Alignment agreement:

Stability might be disturbed either by sudden events or gradual changes that accumulate over time.

Alignment agreement:

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NGSS Performance Expectation

Apply scientific principles to design a method for monitoring and minimizing a human impact on the environment. (Grades 6 - 8 ) More Details

Do you agree with this PE alignment?

This Performance Expectation focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Apply scientific principles to design an object, tool, process or system.

Alignment agreement:

Human activities have significantly altered the biosphere, sometimes damaging or destroying natural habitats and causing the extinction of other species. But changes to Earth's environments can have different impacts (negative and positive) for different living things.

Alignment agreement:

Relationships can be classified as causal or correlational, and correlation does not necessarily imply causation.

Alignment agreement:

The uses of technologies and any limitations on their use are driven by individual or societal needs, desires, and values; by the findings of scientific research; and by differences in such factors as climate, natural resources, and economic conditions. Thus technology use varies from region to region and over time.

Alignment agreement:

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NGSS Performance Expectation

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. (Grades 6 - 8 ) More Details

Do you agree with this PE alignment?

This Performance Expectation focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Define a design problem that can be solved through the development of an object, tool, process or system and includes multiple criteria and constraints, including scientific knowledge that may limit possible solutions.

Alignment agreement:

The more precisely a design task's criteria and constraints can be defined, the more likely it is that the designed solution will be successful. Specification of constraints includes consideration of scientific principles and other relevant knowledge that is likely to limit possible solutions.

Alignment agreement:

All human activity draws on natural resources and has both short and long-term consequences, positive as well as negative, for the health of people and the natural environment.

Alignment agreement:

The uses of technologies and any limitations on their use are driven by individual or societal needs, desires, and values; by the findings of scientific research; and by differences in such factors as climate, natural resources, and economic conditions.

Alignment agreement:

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  • Find a percent of a quantity as a rate per 100 (e.g., 30% of a quantity means 30/100 times the quantity); solve problems involving finding the whole, given a part and the percent. (Grade 6 ) More Details

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  • Fluently add, subtract, multiply, and divide multi-digit decimals using the standard algorithm for each operation. (Grade 6 ) More Details

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Middle School Lesson

Unit Schedule

The following schedule provides a suggested order of the lessons and activities. However, you may choose to only teach some of the activities – as your time and priorities permit.

Copyright

© 2009 by Regents of the University of Colorado

Supporting Program

Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado at Boulder

Acknowledgements

The contents of this digital library curriculum were developed under grants from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), U.S. Department of Education and the National Science Foundation (GK-12 grant no. 0338326). However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the Department of Education or National Science Foundation, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Last modified: April 30, 2019

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