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4th-Inquiry Activitites

Activity I -- Introduction to Air Pollution

Question: Have you ever seen black smoke coming from the tailpipe of a car, bus, truck?

Purpose: In order to open students' minds to the topic of air pollution, they watched the Fossil Fuels power point showing air pollution in cities and shared questions and thoughts about air pollution.

Activity 2 -- What are Fossil Fuels?

First: Show these following YouTube Videos. Then students use graphic organizers to interpret and understand the concepts presented in the videos.

Second: Students read Chapter Eight: Fossil Fuels—Coal, Oil, and Natural Gas from the Energy Story, at

This information is duplicated and available here. Fossil Fuel Information Sheet for Students

Third: Students make a foldable to present the major concepts they learned about fossil fuels from the videos and reading the information sheet on fossil fuels. The foldable has four sections: Where do they come from? Coal. Oil. Natural Gas.

Pictures of Foldable

Foldable 1 Foldable 2.

Activity 3 – Particulate Matter from Incomplete Combustion of Fossil Fuels

Click here for video demonstrating how to do this activity.

Light a wax candle and let it burn for a few seconds. Then, put the bottom of a glass beaker (not a jar! It might shatter) above the flame so that the glass touches the top of the flame. Soot will immediately develop on the glass. Do this with several beakers and give one to each group of students so they can observe, touch, and describe the soot. With a magnifying glass, they should be able to see the fine carbon particles produced by the incomplete combustion of the petroleum (hydrocarbon) from which the candle wax is made.

NOTE: Particulate matter is made up of tiny particles in the atmosphere that can be solid or liquid. The particles are produced by a wide variety of natural and manmade sources. Particulate matter includes dust, dirt, soot, smoke and tiny particles of pollutants. Major sources of particulate pollution are factories, power plants, refuse incinerators, motor vehicles, construction activity, fires, and natural windblown dust.

Particles below 10 microns in size (about seven times smaller than the width of a human hair) are more likely to travel deep in the respiratory system, and be deposited in the lungs where they can be trapped on membranes. If trapped, they can cause excessive growth of fibrous lung tissue, which leads to permanent injury. Children, the elderly, and people suffering from heart or lung disease are especially at risk.

NOTE: The complete combustion is Paraffin wax + Oxygen yields Carbon Dioxide + Water. However, the paraffin wax does not burn completely. In fact, when we use fossil fuels, most of the energy in the fuels does not burn. It is lost, a waste that we see as the carbon particles in pollution. Bees wax is not a fossil fuel and it burns more completely, releasing only C02 and water.

Extension 1: Compare the petroleum-based candle soot to a bees wax candle soot. Using one bees wax candle, collect the soot in the same manner, exposing the beaker to the flame for the same amount of time. Students compare the amount of soot formed with the bees wax candle to the petroleum-based wax candle. They discuss the origin of both types of wax and compare and contrast. Ask the students what the demonstration represents. The students relate the hands-on experiences to the pollution pictures and the burning of fossil fuels.

Extension 2: Tape a white sock on the exhaust pipe of several vehicles: a school bus, a new car, an older car, a diesel truck, a large tractor-trailer rig. Ask the driver to start the engine and run it for one minute. Then, remove the sock, turn it inside out to see the soot created when fossil fuel is burned in an automobile. Let the children discuss what they observe. CAUTION: Teacher demonstration only.

Activity 4 -- Take a Deep Breath… or Not

High levels of particle pollution in the air and high levels of pollution from burning fossil fuels can increase respiratory problems for citizens in nearby communities. In this simple activity, every student gets a chance to experience what it feels like when someone is having an asthma attack.


First, Ms. Allen asked the school nurse how many children in the school had asthma. The number was close to 25% of the student population. She told the students that statistic as she introduced the activity and said, "Any of you students who have asthma, you will not do this activity. Your job is to sit here and observe the other students doing this activity. Then, at the end, please tell them what you observed and how it is like or different from your experiences with asthma. Those of you who did the activity will tell your partners how you felt."

After the activity, Jenny, a student with asthma, told the class, "Yes that is like my asthma attack. But, they got to take the straw out."

  1. Have students discuss what they know about asthma. Do a small asthma survey - ask how many students have asthma in your class (with a volunteer show of hands). Then ask how many students know someone in their family with asthma. Discuss with students that there is a very high number of young people in large cities who have asthma. Ask students to think about why they have this chronic condition.
  2. Tell students that they are going to get a chance to feel what it is like to have an asthma attack by completing a simple activity. Have students place the straw in their mouths and ask them to breathe through the straw for 30 seconds.
  3. Ask students to write down or discuss what that was like.
  4. Then ask students to do jumping jacks (or some other physical activity they can do while standing near their desks) without the straw in their mouths for 1 minute. When students are done with the physical activity, have them quickly place the straw back in their mouths and have them breathe through their mouths (through the straw) for 30 seconds.
  5. Again, have them discuss what it feels like and compare that to the original activity.
  6. Now have students repeat the physical activity, but this time ask them to do so with the straw in their mouths and remind them to only breathe through their mouths while completing the physical activity. When students are done with their one minute exercise, have them breathe through the straw again.
  7. Again, have students discuss (in teams first and then in whole class) what the experience was like and compare it to the original activity.
  8. Read Air Quality from Clean Air Kids Make a graphic organizer to assist the children in understanding the context of asthma.

The lesson above was copied from Lesson "Breathe Easy" retrieved December 2012 from

English Language Proficiency
Since many of the students in these classes are bilingual or are learning English, the teachers implemented the lesson with these enhancements:
--Tell your neighbor how it felt when you could not get much air. Why do you think this is so? Try to talk to your neighbor in your second language – Spanish if you speak English and English if you speak Spanish.
-- Write a paragraph about what you did and what you learned. Please write in English. Then, ask your neighbor to read your paragraph. Make any changes you want before you turn it in.
--Provide a "stem starter" (the first few words of a sentence) to the students. They complete the sentences related to the lesson.

Activity 5 – View Brain Pop video for much information about asthma.

Activity 6 -- Explore Air Quality around the School

Each campus explores their own community and develops a plan to inform others about the local air quality issues or to implement changes to reduce the air pollution.

Click here for a great video about how to use the Air Quality Monitors.

   Students use the Air Quality Monitors to trap particulate matter near their school. The teachers will help students design an investigation and control the variables. For example, students discuss how they might collect the particulate matter using the air quality monitor with a thin coat of Vaseline over the grid. Then they can discuss how to set up the monitors to gather comparison data. They will probably need guidance in deciding how to set one variable, location. The children may set their monitors on the school campus and then have a friend place one or more monitors in a location in a clean air zone. They will set all the monitors in the exact same direction at the same height for the exact same amount of time. Then, they can compare the amount of particulate matter collected at their school to the particulate matter collected the clean air zone.

Examples of Explore Air Quality Extensions at other campuses:

  • Students at Herrera Elementary were interested in walking school buses. However, the location of the school prevented that since there were major traffic arteries to cross and many students rode the bus. So they visited to learn more about walking school buses. Then they created a brochure to give to other students with ideas about why it is good to walk to school whenever possible.
  • Students at Bonham are located very close to the busy International Airport. They wondered about the extra pollution in their area caused by jet fuel exhaust. So they explored the air traffic, making charts of the airplane departures and arrivals, observing airplane traffic, and researching about jet fuel and air traffic pollution. The students visited the website below to find the numbers of arrivals and departures. Then they explored how much jet fuel an airplane uses in take-off and multiplied by the number of departures. They compared this to the amount of gasoline that a car uses.
  • They discovered that people who fly can purchase carbon offsets – a way to contribute to areas that improve air quality to try to compensate for the increased pollution from flying on the airplane. They explored the pros and cons of carbon offsets.
  • Students read the book, 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth, available from Earth Works. (You can also visit their webpage at They made a bulletin board called "50 Ways to Improve Air Quality in Our Community." Students in 4th grade explored the "Earth Day Community Activity" document, as well as other resources, and wrote their ideas and suggestions on this bulletin board.
  • Many more ideas at

4th Introduction

4th Background Information

4th Inquiry Activities