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Our Lungs Our Air Our Health

Activity 6 (Explain): Air Pollution & Humans

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Activity Overview

Activity Summary

In this activity, students use the Lung Attack simulation to deepen their understanding of how air pollution affects human lungs. Then they use this information to add to/revise their models of the circulatory and respiratory systems.

Activity Objectives & Materials

Approximate Time: 30-45 minutes



  • Students will deepen their understanding of how air pollution affects human lungs

  • Students will determine how air pollution (ozone and particulate matter) fit into their models of the circulatory/respiratory systems



  • Student computers

  • Computer & projector



  • Models (from Activity 4)

  • KWL chart (from Activity 1)

  • Asthma Attacks: Cause & Effect

Standards Connection

DCI: LS 1.A: Structure & Function

SEP: Developing & Using Models

CCC: Systems & System Models; Cause & Effect



What were Tatiana and Calvin’s symptoms that we talked about at the beginning of this investigation?

  • Use this as an opportunity to remind students of the phenomenon they are investigating so they can connect it to the simulation they are doing in this activity.


1. Frame the Activity

During our last activity, we saw how ozone can harm plants. At the end of the last activity, we came up with some hypotheses about how ozone could be affecting Tatiana and Calvin. Today we’re going to look more carefully at how ozone and other pollutants affect human lungs to see if it supports our hypotheses.

2. Lung Attack Part 2: Ozone & Particulate Matter

Have students take out their KWL charts from Activity 1 (if they need more space they can use another chart). Either using students computers, or together as a class, have students continue the Lung Attack simulation with Ozone, PM10, and PM2.5. As they work through the simulation, have them add new details from what they learn to their KWL chart. Key takeaways:

  • Ozone attacks the cells in your bronchi

  • Ozone can trigger asthma attacks

  • Big particulate matter (PM10) is dirt, dust, mold, spores, pollen, etc.

  • PM 10 can block airways and make you cough

  • Small particulate matter (PM2.5) is made of heavy metals and other toxins

  • PM 2.5 can make you cough or make it hard to breathe. They can also cause cancer.

Modification: If you are concerned students will need more guidance during the Lung Attack simulation, provide them with a series of questions to answer along the way

After students have finished, you may want to have students share what they learned and add it to the class KWL chart. This is also a good time to clarify misconceptions and make sure all students understand the key takeaways.

Teacher Tip: This module focuses on ozone as a cause of asthma attacks, but particulate matter (PM) is mentioned here because it is another pollutant that can have similar effects. PM is addressed much more explicitly in Module 3.

3. Modeling Air Pollution & Humans

Have students take out their models of how the lungs and respiratory system work. Have them add ozone, PM10, and PM2.5 to their models. Mention to them that these pollutants might need to go in more than one place on their models.

Teacher Tip: If students don’t have their models from Activity 4, have some generic models on hand that they can start from for this Activity

Differentiation: Provide students with slips of paper with the new parts to add to their model (as in Activity 4)

Their revised models might look something like this:

Respiratory Circulatory System Model wit

After modifying their models, have students share how they added to their model with a partner. Circulate and check in to make sure students’ models are accurate.

Step 4

4. Return to the Original Phenomenon

Remind students that they are acting as medical professionals for this investigation, and it is time to make their final diagnosis and explanation for Tatiana and Calvin. Have students take out their original Patient Record Sheets from Activity 1, the KWL charts they have been filling out, and their CER from Activity 2. Have students think about what might be causing Tatiana and Calvin’s asthma attacks based on all the evidence they have so far, including the sources of respiratory problems that they have learned about in this module. In groups, have them develop a list of follow up questions that they want to ask Tatiana and Calvin to help with their diagnosis. See potential questions below.

Have students ask their questions, and either answer them yourself, or have your original student actors answer. The exact questions students ask is less important than identifying local air pollution as the cause Tatiana and Calvin's asthma attacks.


Key questions & answers:

  • Q: Is the air near you polluted?

    • A: They don’t really know the answer to this, but they do live near a busy road that has lots of trucks.

  • Q: Is there a lot of dust in the air near where you live?

    • A: Yes

  • Q: Do you go outside a lot?

    • A: Yes, they love to play outside

  • Q: Is it harder to breathe when there is traffic?

    • A: Yes

Modification: Before having students come up with their set of questions to ask Tatiana and Calvin, have them summarize their learning in their small groups using their KWL charts.

Clarification: There are many different things that can cause an asthma attack including acid reflux, respiratory infections, stress, and even dry air. In this module, the focus is on air pollution – specifically ozone and particulate matter– as a cause. Make sure students realize that not all asthma attacks are caused by air pollution.

5. Formative Assessment

Once students have asked enough questions to get to the heart of the phenomenon, pass out the Asthma Attacks: Cause & Effect sheet and have them write a complete “cause” to the “effect” of Tatiana &/or Calvin’s symptoms, including why it is hard for them to exercise. Their explanation must address what is causing the asthma attacks and what that cause does to their bodies. Students should be encouraged to use their notes to answer the prompts.

  • Sample explanation (part 1): Tatiana and Calvin have asthma. Air pollution from the busy road near where they live causes them to have asthma attacks. The air pollution (ozone & PM) irritates their lungs (respiratory system) which makes it hard for them to breathe.

  • Sample explanation (part 2): Tatiana and Calvin have difficulty exercising because people need oxygen to operate. We get oxygen into our bodies through our respiratory systems, and to our cells through our circulatory systems. Since Tatiana and Calvin have problems with their respiratory systems, they have a hard  time getting enough oxygen to their bodies, which makes it hard to exercise.

Differentiation: Discuss the formative assessment question prompt (either in whole group or with partners) before having students write out their answers.

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