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AIR POLLUTION IN the Community

Activity 3b (Explore): Measuring Particulate Matter Using Engineering

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Activity Summary

Students use the engineering design process to design a low-tech particulate matter detector. They test out their models, and then deploy them into the field where they can gather PM that is deposited. Next, they gather and analyze the data from their detectors in order to support claims about how safe the air is around the school.

Engineering Note: If students have not done any engineering in this class before, it is worth taking the time to teach them the engineering design process and to do a brief sample activity. Introductory information can be found here. A good sample activity to do with students is the parachute design activity here

Activity Objectives & Materials

Approximate Time: 3-4 class periods (180-240 minutes)





  • Students will be able to design, test, and deploy particulate matter collectors

  • Students will be able to collect and analyze data to determine what areas of the school community have high levels of particulate matter in the air



  • Magnifying glass or dissecting scope

  • Graph paper

  • Materials for building the detector (see note below)

  • Materials for testing the detector (ex. flour and pencil shavings)

  • Scissors

  • Additional paper for students to brainstorm and design



  • Design A Particulate Matter Detector

Timing Note: The time for this challenge is flexible. Adjust based on length of class periods and how long students take to build and test their prototypes. It will likely take at least 2 class periods for students to go from initial design to final products.

Standards Connection




1. Frame the Activity


2. Introduce the Engineering Design Challenge

3. Review Testing Procedures


4. Review Materials

5. Brainstorming Ideas

6. Creating Designs

7. Building Prototypes

8. Testing Prototypes

9. Redesign and Improvement

10. Build Final Designs

11. Choose Locations for Monitoring

12. Deploy Monitors

13. Data Collection

14. Data share

15. Analysis Questions

16. Formative Assessment: Conclusion

17. Reflection


For more information about On the Air 2020, contact:

Rebecca Davis, Education Manager

For more information about Clean Air Partners, check out our website at:

© 2020 by Clean Air Partners.