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Environmental Management Department > Curriculum > Lesson Plans > Air Pollution

Environmental Lesson Plan: Air Pollution

Click here to download a printable version of this lesson plan.

Grade Level: K-5
Duration: 30 minutes

The air we breathe is all around us. Good, clean air gives us the oxygen we need to breathe. Even though we usually can’t see or feel the air, it is there. Ask the class when they can see the air and when they can feel it; having this discussion outside can be effective if it’s a clear day with some breeze blowing. The following science experiment activities illustrate that air is made of matter, does take up space, and is very important to our health. Air pressure is the force exerted on you and everything around you by the weight of tiny particles of air (mostly oxygen and nitrogen molecules). Although air molecules are invisible, they still have weight and take up space.

Air is made of matter (mostly nitrogen and oxygen molecules). Even though air is invisible, it takes up space. When you hit the bottom of a milk jug or squeeze the plastic container, you are reducing the size of the container, and this increases the pressure within it. This increased pressure pushes some of the air out of the container, and you feel a blast of air.

Air is essential to life. More air flowing in and out of our lungs increases our exposure to air pollution. As a result, active children, adults, and athletes are more vulnerable to the unhealthy impacts of air pollution. During episodes of unhealthy levels of air pollution, public health officials advise reducing vigorous outdoor activities.

To build an understanding of what air is and where it is; to build an understanding why it’s important for our air to remain clean and healthy.

Students or teacher will demonstrate the forces of air pressure.

12 ounce plastic cup, water, large container to catch any water spill, 5 X 8 index card or plastic lid (i.e. cottage cheese lid)

Activities and Procedures

  1. Fill the cup almost to the top with water.
  2. Place the lid over the mouth of the cup.
  3. Gently hold the cup in one hand and hold the lid in place with the other hand.
  4. Over the sink, turn the glass upside down with one hand while still holding the lid in place with the other hand.
  5. Once the cup is completely upside down, slowly remove the hand that is holding the lid in place.
  6. Ask, “Can you figure out why the lid stayed stuck underneath the cup? What force holds the lid in place? (It’s air pressure.)
  7. You can also try this experiment with larger size plastic cups or containers and larger lids, and see if there is any difference between the sizes used.

Optional Extension - Questions to Answer:

  1. Have you ever seen air that looks dirty?
  2. What color is it?
  3. Have you ever noticed that plants or trees next to heavily traveled roads looks dirty or covered with layers of dirt?
  4. Does your family have plants inside your home? Did you know that plants help keep indoor air clean? Plants and trees, inside or outside, take in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen that we breathe. One plant inside each room of the house can help keep the air you breathe cleaner.
  5. Do you think dirty air affects smaller people more or less than older/larger people?
  6. Even though we sometimes can’t see or feel the air that we breathe, there may be clean air, or dirty air that we are breathing. Did you hear your parents talking about the air during the summer Olympics in Beijing China? Chinese officials forced several companies to close down prior to and during the Olympics to decrease the pollution that was exhausted by their perspective businesses.
  7. Does driving a car create air pollution? Riding a bicycle does not create air pollution.
  8. What can you and/or your families do to keep the air cleaner?


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