Lesson: I Don't Believe My Eyes!

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

A photograph shows a woman wearing a white cloth mask over her moutn and nose to protect against air pollution in China.
What are the effects of air pollutants?
copyright
Copyright © Nicolò Lazzati www.flickr.com/photos/the-niki/4331676192/in/photolist-7A... Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic | Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/121483302@N02/15489395937

Summary

Students develop their understanding of the effects of invisible air pollutants with a rubber band air test, a bean plant experiment and by exploring engineering roles related to air pollution. In an associated literacy activity, students develop visual literacy and write photograph captions. They learn how images are manipulated for a powerful effect and how a photograph can make the invisible (such as pollutants) visible. Note: You may want to set up the activities for Air Pollution unit, Lessons 2 and 3, simultaneously as they require extended data collection time and can share collection sites.
This engineering curriculum meets Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

Engineers design methods to measure invisible air pollutants and monitor air quality; they use these tools to measure emissions from vehicles and industry. For example, engineers design the equipment that is used when your car gets an emissions test. The equipment analyzes the substance discharged into the air by the internal combustion engine to determine whether the vehicle emissions include too many dangerous pollutants.

Learning Objectives

After this lesson, students should be able to:

  • Identify the major types of invisible air pollutants.
  • Describe how some invisible air pollutants affect our health.
  • Describe how engineers interact with invisible air pollution.

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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.

  • Obtain and combine information about ways individual communities use science ideas to protect the Earth's resources and environment. (Grade 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Fluently add, subtract, multiply, and divide multi-digit decimals using the standard algorithm for each operation. (Grade 6) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • 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) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • The management of waste produced by technological systems is an important societal issue. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Identify evidence suggesting that atoms form into molecules with different properties than their components (Grade 6) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Develop, communicate, and justify an evidence-based explanation about how ecosystems interact with and impact the global environment (Grade 6) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
Suggest an alignment not listed above

Introduction/Motivation

Ask students to recall a visit to a gas station: Have they ever pumped the gas themselves or helped someone else do it? Have they ever taken a close look at the gas pump handle? Have they ever noticed that when they travel to other states or countries the pump nozzle may appear different? In Colorado (and many other places), the pump handles are equipped with a "rubber collar," designed by an engineer to prevent volatile organic compounds (VOCs, such as benzene) from escaping into the air while gas is pumped. This collar protects you from serious health effects that may result from inhaling fumes and also protects the environment from the smog caused by VOCs.

Create an idea web: Ask students to brainstorm a list of invisible pollutants. What effects do these pollutants have on us and our environment? What are some possible solutions for reducing these types of pollutants? (Refer students to the Common Air Pollutants Reference Sheet or see the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Air Trends website at: www.epa.gov/airtrends/.

Lesson Background and Concepts for Teachers

The atmosphere is almost completely composed of invisible gaseous substances. Most major air pollutants are also invisible, meaning you cannot see or smell them. However, when large amounts of them are concentrated in areas such as cities, they can be seen as smog. Invisible air pollutants are among the most dangerous to our health.

The EPA set national air quality standards for six principal air pollutants (also referred to as criteria pollutants): carbon monoxide (CO), lead (Pb), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2), ozone (O3) and particulate matter (PM). Four of these pollutants (CO, Pb, NO2 and SO2) result primarily from direct emissions from a variety of everyday sources. Particulate matter results from direct emissions, but is also commonly formed when emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur oxides (SOx), ammonia, organic compounds and other gases react in the atmosphere. Ozone is not directly emitted, but is formed when NOx and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) react in the presence of sunlight.

Vocabulary/Definitions

carbon monoxide: A colorless, odorless and poisonous gas made of one carbon atom and one oxygen atom. Abbreviated as CO.

invisible pollutant: Air pollution that cannot be smelled or seen with the naked eye.

ozone: Ground-level ozone is the principal component of smog, created from chemical reactions of pollutants, VOCs, and NOx. Abbreviated as O3.

volatile organic compound: An organic chemical containing carbon that escapes into the air easily. Abbreviated as VOC. VOCs react with sunlight to produce ground-level ozone. VOCs are the most common type of indoor pollutant.

Associated Activities

  • What's Hiding in the Air? - Students develop their understanding of the effects of invisible air pollutants with a rubber band air test and a bean plant experiment.
  • Tears in Rain - In this literacy activity, students develop visual literacy and write photograph captions. They learn how images are manipulated for a powerful effect and how a photograph can make the invisible (pollutants that form acid rain) visible (through the damage they cause).

Lesson Closure

Ask students if they would like to add anything new to the idea web. Assign the Carbon Monoxide Emissions Worksheet as homework.

Attachments

Assessment

Pre-Lesson Assessment

Discussion Topic: Ask students to recall a visit to a gas station. Have they ever pumped gas themselves or helped someone else do it? Have they ever taken a close look at the gas pump handle? Have they ever noticed that when they travel to other locations the pump nozzle may appear different? Why?

Post-Introduction Assessment

Idea Web: Ask students to brainstorm a list of invisible pollutants. What effects do these pollutants have on us and our environment? What are possible solutions for reducing these types of pollutants?

Lesson Summary Assessment

Idea Web Revisited: Ask students if they would like to add anything new to their idea web.

Informative Flyer: Have students create a flyer to inform other students, the school or their community about the presence of visible and invisible pollutants in the air. Include some of the ideas they generated in the idea web. Display these flyers in the classroom or the school's common area.

Homework

Worksheet: Assign students to complete the Carbon Monoxide Emissions Worksheet. Discuss findings during the next class period, paying particular attention to questions 3 and 6.

Lesson Extension Activities

Take a field trip to a vehicle emissions testing site. Or, invite a speaker from a vehicle emissions testing site to speak to your class about how they measure the invisible pollutants from vehicles. What determines whether or not a car passes the inspection?

References

Air Trends. Updated May 4, 2004. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Accessed July 13, 2004. www.epa.gov/airtrends.

The Plain English Guide to the Clean Air Act, The Common Air Pollutants. Updated May 13, 2002. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA-OAQPS. Accessed July 13, 2004. www.epa.gov.

Contributors

Amy Kolenbrander; Janet Yowell; Natalie Mach; Malinda Schaefer Zarske; Denise W. Carlson

Copyright

© 2004 by Regents of the University of Colorado

Supporting Program

Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado 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 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: June 6, 2017

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