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Guidelines for Teaching On the Air 2020

On the Air 2020 is a standards-aligned air quality curriculum that was created to support inquiry-based science education for students in grades 5-12. This page includes a variety of information to help you implement On the Air successfully.

Use the questions below to find the help section which is most useful for you:

How is On the Air 2020 structured and how should I use it?

5 Independent Modules

On the Air 2020 has 5 modules, which are each made of one complete 5E lesson sequence. These lesson sequences range from 9-13 activities, and all include a summative assessment. The modules can be used independently, or as a complete unit. The order of the modules is intentional, so it is recommended that you teach the modules in order if you plan to teach them all.

Scientific Phenomena & Engineering Problems

On the Air 2020 is built around explaining scientific phenomena and designing solutions to engineering problems. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs) focus on engaging students in these practices of science and engineering as a way to foster authentic science learning. While these are not the only science and engineering practices that students undertake in standards-aligned science curricula, they are critical components of NGSS and the SOLs. Each module in the curriculum explicitly details the phenomena that students are looking to explain or the engineering problems they are looking to solve. When in doubt about how to teach the module, make sure that the scientific phenomena and engineering problems are at the forefront.

Teach Whole Modules

Because each module of On the Air is a complete 5E lesson sequence that leads students to explore and explain a phenomenon related to air quality, students will learn best if they progress through the modules as designed, from engaging with and exploring the phenomenon, to developing explanations, to elaborating and extending their understanding, to an evaluation of their learning. Pulling individual pieces out of each module will short-circuit this cycle of inquiry and prevent students from experiencing the full richness of the modules.

Adopt & Adapt

While we love the activities in On the Air 2020 that doesn't mean they're perfect for every classroom around the world. Where necessary, make adjustments to better suit your students or your classroom situation. That might mean adding in a mini-lesson here or there to fill in gaps in student understanding or skills, reteaching a lesson that students need more support with, swapping out a video, tweaking a handout, or adjusting the pacing. With that said, there is an intentionality built into each module and activity, so keep that in mind before you make sweeping changes to the curriculum.  

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What is the 5E Model of Instruction?

About the 5E Model

The 5E instructional model is a student-centered method for teaching science and engineering through guided inquiry. Its name comes from the individual stages that students progress through when they are engaged in this type of learning. The model was developed by Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS) in 1978 as a tool for science educators to plan meaningful lessons and units. It has been studied extensively and shown to be effective at improving science learning. It has also been modified over time to better align current teaching practices and beliefs. To learn more about the origins and adaptations of the 5E model, visit the BSCS 5E webpage.

What are the 5 "E"s?

  • Engage: During this phase of the model, students are introduced to scientific phenomena or engineering design problems. Activities are designed to generate curiosity and interest in the topic, and to generate questions that will be explored in later stages of the lesson sequence.  

  • Explore: During this phase of the model, students make observations, generate hypotheses, plan and conduct experiments, and attempt to make sense of the phenomenon. The teacher's role is to guide students in their investigations, but not to provide answers or solutions.

  • Explain: During this phase of the model, students generate their own explanations of the phenomenon based upon their explorations. Students may create definitions, build models, debate explanations, or draw conclusions from research. The teacher supports this student sensemaking by asking students for justifications and evidence to support their explanations. The teacher may also provide formal definitions, correct student misconceptions, and ultimately, provide students with accurate explanations. 

  • Elaborate: During this phase of the model, students apply what they have learned to new situations or additional phenomena. For example, students may use a scientific concept that have uncovered from their initial investigations, and attempt to use it to explain a new phenomenon. Students often use similar skills during the elaborate phase as they do during the explore phase.

  • Evaluate: During the final phase of the model, students demonstrate what they have learned using a variety of methods such as giving presentations, writing formal explanations, and answering open-ended questions.

Download this excellent resource for more details about what the teacher does and what students do when they are following the 5E model.

Common Misconceptions About the 5E Model

  • The 5E model applies to instructional sequences, not individual lessons, especially at the secondary level. While students frequently engage in multiple "E"s during a single lesson, completing one 5E lesson sequence usually takes multiple days or even weeks. In On the Air 2020, one 5E instructional sequence may span 9-13 activities

  • The 5Es are designed to be taught in order, but they don't follow a completely linear pathway. A 5E instructional sequence may begin with engage, explore, and explain lessons, then return to explore again to dive deeper into the phenomenon. This may be followed by explain, elaborate, and evaluate lessons, or it may loop around again. This flexibility allows for students to follow a genuine line of inquiry.

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What are Common Structures I Will See in On the Air 2020?

Claim-Evidence-Reasoning for Scientific Writing

The Claim-Evidence-Reasoning (CER) structure is used throughout On the Air as a way to support student thinking, sensemaking, and scientific writing. It is a helpful method for improving students' analytical skills when it comes to interpreting data and expressing conclusions. This video below from Bozeman Science provides an excellent explanation of CER and how to use it in the classroom:

Anchor charts

Each module in On the Air 2020 is designed to be a coherent learning sequence. Phenomena, questions, concepts, and information form through-lines that enhance student sensemaking and understanding. Anchor charts that teachers and students create together and then display in the classroom throughout the unit serve as reference points and “anchors” to guide that sensemaking.

“Know-Want to Know-Learned” (KWL) charts and “I see, I think, I wonder” charts

As students progress through a module in the curriculum, they perform the same kinds of activities that scientists do in the real world. This starts with making observations, connecting observations to background information, raising questions, exploring those questions, and reflecting on learning. KWL charts and I see, I think, I wonder charts provide students with the opportunity to engage in authentic exploration and learning, and reflect on that process.

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What information is in each module?

On the Air 2020 modules have a common structure. Each module contains the following information:

  • Module overview: a brief description of the module contents in narrative form

  • When to teach this module: guidelines for incorporating On the Air 2020 into your current curriculum or scope & sequence


  • Standards overview: how the module aligns to NGSS, VA SOL, and Common Core standards


  • 5E module flow: the purpose, timing, and objectives for each activity in the module


  • Module materials: what handouts or other materials are required to teach each activity


  • Teacher background information: helpful information for teachers to use to prepare for the module, and links to additional sources


  • Module activities: directions for teaching each activity, as well as student handouts and teacher guides


  • Doing our part: a set of actions that students can take to improve air quality in their communities or to keep themselves safe from air pollution. In Modules 4 & 5, this section is built into one of the activities as opposed to being a separate section.


  • Air quality champion in the community: an interview with a member of the community who works to support healthy air


Note: Module 4 contains additional information including: What is a MWEE, how to fund the module, and special timing considerations.

The pdf version of the curriculum looks slightly different from the online version. This is what a typical activity page from the print curriculum looks like with some descriptions of what you'll find there :

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What are some tips and tricks for using the curriculum?

Download the curriculum

On the Air 2020 modules can be downloaded in their entirety in pdf format. Student handouts can be downloaded in pdf or Word format. Other materials for use in the classroom (ex. interviews with air quality champions) can also be downloaded as separate pdf files.

Use images from the curriculum with students

Many of the images in the online version of the curriculum can easily be shown to students directly from this website. To isolate individual images, just right click on the image and choose "show image in another tab" to display the image on its own.

Look up words using the embedded glossary

Many of the vocabulary words in the curriculum are in the embedded glossary. Simply click on one of the underlined words and a window will pop up with the definition as the word is used in the curriculum. You can also see all the vocabulary words from the entire curriculum in the Glossary under the resources tab at the top of the page.

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What additional resources are there for using On the Air 2020?

All the additional resources for using On the Air 2020 can be found using the links below or by clicking the resources tab at the top of the page.

Discussion strategies

This page has a variety of techniques to lead meaningful conversations with students.

Sensemaking strategies

This page includes various ways to help students grapple with and internalize the content.

Questioning strategies

This page has tools for helping you to ask better questions to drive student thinking.

Rubrics and feedback guide

This page has generic rubrics for presentations and modeling, and a peer feedback guide.

Differentiation guide

On the Air 2020 includes a variety of built-in differentiation strategies. With this said, no one knows your students better than you do. Use this guide to help you incorporate additional differentiation strategies as you see fit.

Accessibility guide

Students may have various reasons that they need support accessing the content in the curriculum. Students who are learning English, who come from different backgrounds as others in your class, or who have physical disabilities may benefit from the ideas in this guide.  

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