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Curricular Unit: Air Pollution

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 © Owen Bryne, Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/ojbyrne/2167696800


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 aligns to 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.

See individual lessons and activities for standards alignment.

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.

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Students learn what causes air pollution and how to investigate the different pollutants that exist, such as toxic gases and particulate matter. They investigate the technologies developed by engineers to reduce air pollution.

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© 2009 by Regents of the University of Colorado

Supporting Program

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


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: August 12, 2020

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