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Truck with Smoke Cropped

AIR POLLUTION IN the Community

Activity 1 (Engage): The Trouble With Trucks

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Activity Overview

Activity Summary

In this investigation kickoff activity, students are introduced to the phenomenon of truck exhaust and – in the extreme case – coal rolling. They take a moment to consider what they already know about truck exhaust and come up with some questions about the topic before they begin exploring in the next activity.

Activity Objectives & Materials

Approximate Time: 45 minutes



  • Students will ask questions to clarify and define the phenomenon of point-source air pollution (truck exhaust)



  • Computer & projector

  • Sticky notes

  • Sentence strips (or other paper)



  • I See, I Think, I Wonder

  • Air Quality Champion interview (optional)

Standards Connection

 DCI: ESS3.C: Human Impacts on Earth Systems



Warmup: What kinds of trucks have you seen in your neighborhood?

  • Students may identify garbage trucks, delivery trucks (ex. Amazon), dump trucks (if they are near a construction site), tractor trailers (ex. at grocery stores), tanker trucks (at gas stations)

  • The purpose of this warmup is to provide information about what kinds of trucks students are familiar with, which will help with the rest of the investigation.


1. Frame the Activity

Tell students that today they are beginning a new investigation. For this investigation, they are going to take on the role of citizens who are concerned about something they have seen in their community. In just a moment, they will see the same thing. Will they have the same concerns as the citizens? Let’s find out.

Step 1

2. Introduce The Phenomenon: Diesel Trucks

Hand out the I See, I Think, I Wonder sheet for students. Tell them that in a moment you are going to show one or more videos of this event. Their job is to write down what they see in the top row of the sheets using as many details as possible.

Show students one or more of the videos or pictures below that show diesel vehicles emitting large amounts of pollution. Choose the video(s) that you think students will recognize from their own experience:

You may also choose to show them a picture of a truck like one of these if it is a kind of truck you think they will be familiar with:

Truck with Smoke Cropped
Rolling coal truck.jpg

Teacher Tip: If there are other vehicles that your students see regularly (ex. buses) , find pictures to show them of these vehicles as well as long as they clearly show the exhaust.

Afterwards, have students turn to a partner and share what they saw. Encourage them to add their partners’ observations to their sheets. Then have partners share with the whole group. Use questioning techniques to help students focus on the exhaust from these vehicles, and to be as descriptive of it as possible. Ask students if they have ever seen trucks like this before, either in their community or somewhere else.

Vocabulary: Make sure that students are familiar with what you are referring to when you use the word “exhaust.” They don’t need to know what it is yet, but they should know you are referring to the smoke coming from the trucks.

3. I Think...

In the “I Think” section of their sheets, have students write what they know about exhaust. They will have different amounts of background knowledge, but they at least know that it is smoke that comes from trucks. Then have them turn to a partner to share what they know. Afterwards, have students share something that their partner said about exhaust.

Step 4

4. I Wonder...

On their own, have students write down what they wonder about truck exhaust in question form (ex. Where does the exhaust come from?). While they are writing, pass out sticky notes to small groups of students. When they are done writing, have each small group write down whatever questions they have about truck exhaust – one question on each sticky note. When they are ready, go around the class and have each group share one of their questions. You can rewrite these questions on the board or have students bring their sticky notes up to the front. After each question, ask if any other groups have the same question, and make a note of how many groups have that question. Tell students to put a check mark on their stickies whenever a question they have has been shared so that they only share new questions. Continue around the room until all groups have shared their questions.

Differentiation: If students have difficulty creating questions, you can provide them with types of scientific questions to kickstart their thinking. For example: what is this made of? Where did this come from? Is this dangerous to humans? Is this bad for the environment? Is there an alternative to this?

5. Summarize Questions

With students’ help, organize the questions into 2-4 groups of similar questions, and choose 2-4 overarching questions to summarize the category (the class may need to create questions that summarize each category). Ideally these will be questions that align closely with the goals of the module (ex. what is truck exhaust made of? Is truck exhaust harmful). Write these big questions on sentence strips (or other paper) and put them up on the wall. Tell students that you will use the questions to help guide their investigation.

6. Trucks in the Community

Now that students have seen the phenomenon, return to idea that citizens in the community are concerned about these trucks. Ask students why people might be concerned (ex. there are young children around, there are people with asthma, etc.) In particular, ask if there are there people in the community that might be more concerned than others? Have the students ever experienced one of these trucks driving by? What was it like? Use this as an opportunity to help students’ make a personal connection to the phenomenon and see it as something to be concerned about.

Recommended Reading: For more background information on how delivery trucks affect pollution in cities, check out this short article from Scientific American

7. Formative Assessment

You may use students’ I See, I Think, I Wonder sheets as a formative assessment, since this activity is designed to kickoff the investigation. Alternatively, have students write a short answer about their experience with trucks like the ones in the pictures: ex. How do they feel about these trucks?

Reading: Joshua Shodeinde - Air Quality Champion

Recommended homework or in-class reading: At some point during the module, have students read the interview with this module’s Air Quality Champion to get them into the frame of mind of the kind of work they’ll be doing during this investigation.

Name: Joshua Shodeinde

Title: Regulatory and Compliance Engineer

Organization: Maryland Department of the Environment











What motivates you to come to work every day?

My biggest motivation is knowing that my work is directly involved with improving air quality. I used to have asthma growing up, so working in a field where I can help reduce toxic air pollutants and potentially reduce asthma attacks has a personal connection to me. I also have a young daughter who I want to grow up strong and healthy. I want her to have a love for nature and outdoor activities like taking walks or biking or hiking. Working to protect Maryland’s air quality will allow my family and millions of others in the state to enjoy the great outdoors without worry.


What education and career path did you pursue to have the position that you have today?

I graduated college with a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical Engineering. My first real job was working at a nonprofit organization, whose mission is to strengthen Baltimore’s communities through education, skills development, and community service. This job taught me the importance of environmental and energy stewardship, a fancy way of saying that we should all act responsibly to protect Maryland’s air, land, water, and energy. We can do this by turning off lights when we don’t need them; riding our bikes and using public transportation whenever possible; not wasting water and food; and recycling. My role was to educate Baltimore residents about energy conservation and provide them with energy-saving items. Next, I worked at a company that helps business owners to upgrade their lighting to energy-efficient lights. Then I came to work at MDE.

What is your workspace like?

I work in an office cubicle, which has a table, file cabinets, and a desktop computer. I have pictures of my wife, daughter, and former colleagues in my cube. I enjoy going on walks with colleagues during break time (there’s a park right beside our building) or talking about shows in the break room.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

For work, I would say my biggest accomplishment has been writing two regulations which aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It was a lot of work that required coordination with other staff at MDE, businesses, environmental advocacy groups, and concerned citizens. I remember the day I had to give a 3-hour presentation, with a question and answer session, on why these greenhouse gas regulations are important. With the help of my bosses and colleagues, we received support from everyone to move ahead with the regulations.


For my personal life, it is raising a 2-year-old. Kids are also lot of work! But I love her dearly and seeing her grow is so rewarding.

Is there something important that you want to share that we haven’t asked?

I would just add that you don’t need to work for an environmental agency to fight against air pollution and fight for improving air quality. Every day there is opportunity to play our role to help protect, preserve, and restore the environment. Play your part!

How does your work relate to air quality?

I work in the Air Regulations Development Division at the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE). MDE’s mission is to protect and restore the environment for the health and well-being of all Marylanders. I work with a team of engineers who write air regulations (rules) that air pollution sources such as power plants or manufacturing facilities have to follow. These rules help to ensure that the air we breathe in Maryland is healthy and safe.

What is your workday like?

My daily tasks vary from day-to-day. One day I may share ideas with other regulators on rules to reduce pollution, on another day I may meet with businesses to help them understand a regulation. Sometimes, I read and learn about sources of air pollution and what needs to happen to improve air quality. I really enjoy the variety of my job.

Joshua Shodeinde headshot.jpg
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