Introduction to Air Quality


Students learn about the sources and impacts of major types of air pollution.

Engage students with images of air pollution.

  • Show images of air pollution around the world in the SMOG: What it looks like and where it comes from slideshow. Have students consider the colors they see in the sky and where the air pollution is visible in each scene.  The second half of the presentation includes images of sources of air pollution. Before showing the slides, assess student knowledge about what air pollution is, what it looks like, and pollution sources.

Explore the sources of air pollution.

  • Whirling Swirling Air Pollution: In this activity, students read a story of a typical day in the life of Edgar, a fictional character, and create a simple model that shows the air pollution that Edgar adds to the atmosphere over a 24-hour period.
  • Air Pollution Model: Use this model to explore the connections between pollution sources, weather, geography, and air quality. Discover which weather condition causes the development of secondary air pollutants, such as ozone. Compare the effects of two different pollution sources, pollution-control devices, and changing weather conditions on the air quality over a city.

Explain how air pollutants form using molecule models.

  • Modeling Smog: Students are introduced to the chemistry of air pollutants using simple models which show how ozone is made at ground level in the presence of sunlight.

Elaborate on how types of air pollution impact health.

  • Name That Air Pollutant: In this guessing game, students describe and identify four major air pollutants and the effects of each on human health. Student understanding of these major pollutants is built through a reading that describes how human activities contribute to air pollution.

Evaluate student understanding of the sources and impacts of air pollution.

  • Have students make a list of what could be done to reduce the amount of air pollution, and what could be done to reduce the impacts of air pollution on human health. (Student answers should include reducing the sources of air pollution such as auto emissions and factory emissions. Student answers should also address strategies for reducing the impact on human health such as staying indoors at times of day when air quality is low.)
  • Then lead a class discussion in which students share their ideas. Consider which ideas are easy to implement and which would take more effort. Consider which are actions that individuals can take, and which would require communities to act together.