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Breath of Fresh Air

Grade Level: 3-5

Lesson Overview:

In this lesson, students will activate their background knowledge about pollution. Students will make predictions about the effects of poor air quality and browse websites to learn more about air quality in specific areas of the country. Students will conduct an easy experiment to collect samples of particles from the air. Students will conclude that growing plants is one way to make a positive effect on air quality. Before beginning, you may wish to review a brief article from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) about how leaves help to filter pollutants from the air: http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2010/10/tree-leaves-fight-pollution.html

Learning Objectives:

Students will be able to:

  • Use background knowledge to make predictions about the effects of poor air quality.
  • Collect samples of particles that might be found in the air, and compare and analyze results.
  • Use the internet to research local air quality levels.
  • Draw conclusions about how to make a difference with air pollution.

Time Frame:
Three forty-five minute sessions plus several days between sessions 1 and 2.

  • Session 1 – Engage and Explore
  • (Several days later) Session 2 – Explore (observe samples) and Explain
  • Session 3 – Extend and Evaluate

Materials for the teacher:

  • Used air filter from a furnace (place in clear plastic bag if any children have allergies to dust or dust mites)
  • Leaf image (See Below)

Materials for students:

  • Computer with internet access
  • Petroleum jelly
  • Jar (can be small such as a baby food jar: one for each pair or small group)
  • Posterboard or Chart Paper
  • Markers
  • Science journals

Classroom Activities:

Session 1

  1. Show the students the used air filter. Explain that our lungs that help us breathe also serve as filters. What kinds of things can be bad for our lungs? Students may not know all the different possible causes of unhealthy lungs. Ask students if they have heard the term “air pollution.” What causes air pollution?
  2. Give students a quick five question true or false quiz about air pollution. Allow them to respond with gestures or movements, instead of paper and pencil. After the quiz, ask students to share any extra background knowledge they have about air pollution.
  3. Ask students to make predictions about what the short- and long-term effects might be of breathing polluted air and what people can do to help decrease air pollution in the environment.
  1. Guide students in exploring http://www.airnow.gov/index.cfm?action=aqikids.index and show them how to learn more about clean and dirty air, what the AQI (air quality index) is, air pollution and health, and what kids can do to make a difference. As a class, discuss what your students discovered, learned, and found interesting—as well as any questions they may have.
  2. Once students have an understanding of air quality, have students collect samples of air quality by making a collection jar as an experiment. Using a wide-mouthed jar, students will coat the inside of the jar with petroleum jelly. Students can periodically make observations of what is collected in the jar. Students should place their jars in a safe location that would be easy to access. Some ideas are on a sidewalk near a parking lot, on a sidewalk near the bus loop, the courtyard, a school greenhouse, a local park, playground, indoors, or students could even take it home.
  3. After a couple of days, or a weekend, students should collect the samples. Ask students to visually display or chart their results, and make conclusions about why there might be a difference in results depending on the location of the jar. Encourage students to make connections about how air quality can be improved with the use of trees, grasses, shrubs, etc.

Session 2

  1. As a class, visit the website: www.airnow.gov .Ask students to complete a four square summarizer of what they learned. A four square summarizer can be as simple as folding a piece of paper into fourths. Students can create four main idea words for each box, or the teacher can pre-select four words that summarize the learning. Students can write, draw and explain in each box to help them explain what they learned.
  1. Tell students that nature has a filtering system that helps us breath better. Ask them to see if they can tell what it is from the first image. Show the leaf image on a computer with projection device. If your image displayer will allow, magnify the image to get close to the leaf. You may wish to show them the second image which shows a stoma or leaf opening. This is the orifice through which gases pass into and out of a leaf. Leaves absorb many pollutants from the air. This includes carbon dioxide, but also many other polluting gases and particles.
  2. Students can read or watch a video about the process of photosynthesis and explain how plants remove particles from the air and absorb carbon dioxide.
  3. Ask students to respond to the following question in their science notebooks: Why should we plant trees and other plants to reduce pollution?
  1. Ask students to make an informational poster demonstrating at least three ways to help reduce air pollution.
  2. Have students share their posters in a poster session where other students are able to view the information.

Session 3

  1. Have students consider places where they could add plants to their local environment. You may wish to look for sites on the web which are willing to provide plants for environmental groups and take advantage of the free resources they offer. The United States Department of Food and Agriculture has a web page that will lead you to your state’s cooperative extension agency. The National Arbor Day Foundation gives trees to its members for a low membership fee.
  2. Older students can use the website http://www.airnow.gov/ to research air quality conditions and forecasts. There are several maps on the site and students can compare air quality data with what they know about plant life and vegetation across the country. Students can also search by zip code and complete a long term project showing the air quality in a given area over a particular time frame.
    1. First, ask students to do a search by zip code or state.
    2. A map will appear and a chart with numbers and colors. Ask students to record the information for the current day and for the forecast.
    3. Students can search by another zip code or state, and compare the information for the two locations.
    4. Students can also check the highest forecast locations for the current day and the next.
  1. Students should create a visual aid or diagram to show how the cycle of photosynthesis works.
  2. Have students write a persuasive letter to their school principal to plant more green material near parking lots, school entrances, and bus drop-off areas. Encourage them to support their requests with facts and justifications.
  3. Ask students to write a journal response explaining what might happen to carbon dioxide and oxygen levels if there weren’t enough plants and trees in an area.
Home Connections:

There are many plants that improve air quality indoors. After conducting a study, NASA and ALCA came up with a list of the most effective plants for treating indoor air pollution. The recommended plants can be found below. Some students will have these plants in their homes. Students can choose one of these plants and research the basic information about how to care for these plants, as well as how the plant helps the environment. Students should compile their research in a plant guide that they create about their specific plant.

  1. Philodendron scandens `oxycardium', heartleaf philodendron
  2. Philodendron domesticum, elephant ear philodendron
  3. Dracaena fragrans `Massangeana', cornstalk dracaena
  4. Hedera helix, English ivy
  5. Chlorophytum comosum, spider plant
  6. Dracaena deremensis `Janet Craig', Janet Craig dracaena
  7. Dracaena deremensis `Warneckii', Warneck dracaena
  8. Ficus benjamina, weeping fig
  9. Epipiremnum aureum, golden pothos
  10. Spathiphyllum `Mauna Loa', peace lily
  11. Philodendron selloum, selloum philodendron
  12. Aglaonema modestum, Chinese evergreen
  13. Chamaedorea sefritzii, bamboo or reed palm
  14. Sansevieria trifasciata, snake plant
  15. Dracaena marginata , red-edged dracaena

Leaf Images:

  1. Large leaf close-up (this image can be magnified in an image player)
  2. Stoma: this opening allows air to pass into the plant

    (right click (or control-click on Apple) to save image to desktop)

  1. Large leaf close-up
  2. Stoma: this opening allows air to pass into the plant

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National Science Education Standards Addressed:

Ask a question about objects, organisms, and events in the environment.
Plan and conduct an investigation.
Use data to construct a reasonable explanation.
Changes in environments can be natural or influenced by humans.

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