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The Effects of Ozone Pollution on Human Body Systems

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Module Overview

Module Overview

The air we breathe provides us with the oxygen we need to survive, but it can also introduce dangerous and harmful chemicals into our lungs and our bodies. In this module, students will take on the role of medical professionals to investigate the phenomenon of an asthma attack. They will begin by studying the structure and function of the human respiratory system, and how it connects to the circulatory system. They will use this understanding to develop a model of how our bodies get and transfer oxygen to our cells. Then they will investigate the effects of ground-level ozone and its role in exacerbating the effects of asthma. They will also have the opportunity to connect this understanding with a common treatment for asthma. Finally, students will demonstrate what they know by using their models to show how air pollution affects the human body.

Anchor phenomenon:

      Two students who are having difficulty breathing.


  • 7 activities + summative assessment

  • Approximately 7 class periods + summative assessment

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Activity 1

Introducing Tatiana and Calvin

Activity 4

Modeling the Respiratory & Circulatory Systems

Activity 7

Asthma & the AQI

Activity 2

Breathing & Excercise

Activity 5

Seeing Ozone's Effects on Living Things

Activity 8

Modeling Air Pollution & Human Health


Activity 3 

The Respiratory & Circulatory Systems

Activity 6

Air Pollution & Humans

When to Teach This Module

When to Teach

Finding the right place within a science scope and sequence to investigate air pollution with students can be tricky. Below you will find some information about the module that can help you decide where this it might fit into your own plans for student leaning:


  • Connection to Human Health: This module focuses on how individuals are affected physiologically by air pollution, in particular from ozone. It ties in very well with student investigations of human body systems, and would work well either integrated into, or at the end of a unit on cell biology. Activities in the unit will have additional relevance for students if they already have some background knowledge of cells, tissues, organs, and organ systems (especially the circulatory system) including the structure and function of different parts of living systems.


  • Connection to Earth Science: Because this module looks at how air pollution affects humans, it would work well as an addition to a unit on the atmosphere, or a unit on human impacts to the environment. In both cases, the unit can provide a personal connection for students to see that air pollution is not just a hazard to the environment, it is potentially harmful to human health as well.


NGSS Standards Alignment

Performance Expectations

  • Focus PE: MS-LS1-3. Use argument supported by evidence for how the body is a system of interacting subsystems composed of groups of cells. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on the conceptual understanding that cells form tissues and tissues form organs specialized for particular body functions. Examples could include the interaction of subsystems within a system and the normal functioning of those systems.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include the mechanism of one body system independent of others. Assessment is limited to the circulatory, excretory, digestive, respiratory, muscular, and nervous systems.]


  • Background PE: MS-LS2-3. Develop a model to describe the cycling of matter and flow of energy among living and nonliving parts of an ecosystem. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on describing the conservation of matter and flow of energy into and out of various ecosystems, and on defining the boundaries of the system.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include the use of chemical reactions to describe the processes.]

Science & Engineering Practices

Focus SEP:  Developing and Using Models
Modeling in 6–8 builds on K–5 experiences and progresses to developing, using, and revising models to describe, test, and predict more abstract phenomena and design systems.

  • Develop and/or use a model to predict and/or describe phenomena.

  • Develop a model to describe unobservable mechanisms.


 Background SEP: Planning and carrying out investigations

Planning and carrying out investigations in 6-8 builds on K-5 experiences and progresses to include investigations that use multiple variables and provide evidence to support explanations or solutions.

  • Conduct an investigation and/or evaluate and/or revise the experimental design to produce data to serve as the basis for evidence that meet the goals of the investigation.

  • Collect data to produce data to serve as the basis for evidence to answer scientific questions or test design solutions under a range of conditions.


Background SEP: Constructing explanations

Constructing explanations and designing solutions in 6–8 builds on K–5 experiences and progresses to include constructing explanations and designing solutions supported by multiple sources of evidence consistent with scientific ideas, principles, and theories.

  • Construct an explanation using models or representations.

  • Apply scientific ideas, principles, and/or evidence to construct, revise and/or use an explanation for real-world phenomena, examples, or events.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

Focus DCI: LS1.A: Structure and Function
In multicellular organisms, the body is a system of multiple interacting subsystems. These subsystems are groups of cells that work together to form tissues and organs that are specialized for particular body functions.


Background DCI: LS2.A: Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems
Organisms, and populations of organisms, are dependent on their environmental interactions both with other living things and with nonliving factors.

Crosscutting Concepts

Focus CCC: Systems and System Models – A system is an organized group of related objects or components; models can be used for understanding and predicting the behavior of systems.

  • Systems may interact with other systems; they may have sub-systems and be a part of larger complex systems.

  • Models can be used to represent systems and their interactions—such as inputs, processes and outputs—and energy, matter, and information flows within systems.


Background CCC: Cause and Effect: Mechanism and Explanation – Events have causes, sometimes simple, sometimes multifaceted. Deciphering causal relationships, and the mechanisms by which they are mediated, is a major activity of science and engineering.

  • Cause and effect relationships may be used to predict phenomena in natural or designed systems.

5E Module Flow

5E Module Flow

Activity 1 (Engage): Introducing Tatiana & Calvin

Timing: 30-45 minutes

Purpose: Introducing the anchor phenomenon

  • Students will ask questions to build understanding of the phenomenon

  • Students will be able to describe the symptoms related to the phenomenon (asthma)

  • Students will make connections to local asthma health statistics

Activity 2 (Explore): Breathing & Exercise

Timing: 60 minutes

Purpose: Making connections between the respiratory and circulatory systems

  • Students will recognize a connection between breathing and heart rate, especially as related to exercise

Activity 3 (Explain): The Respiratory & Circulatory Systems

Timing: 45 minutes

Purpose: Building understanding of how the respiratory system works

  • Students will know the main parts of the human respiratory system and what they are for

  • Students will know the main parts of the human circulatory system and what they are for

  • Students will know critical facts about the human respiratory system, ex. that oxygen is the gas in the air we need, and carbon dioxide is the gas we need to get rid of

Activity 4 (Explain): Modeling the Respiratory & Circulatory Systems

Timing: 45 minutes

Purpose: Creating a model of the respiratory and circulatory systems

  • Students will create a model to show how the respiratory and circulatory systems connect to each other

  • Students will use their models to explain how oxygen gets from the environment to all the cells of our bodies

Activity 5 (Explore): Seeing Ozone’s Effects on Living Things

Timing: 30-45 minutes

Purpose: Understanding how pollution hurts living things

  • Students will make connection between gases in the air (particularly ozone) and damage to delicate parts of living things

Activity 6 (Explain): Air Pollution & Humans

Timing: 30-45 minutes

Purpose: Adding pollution to models of the respiratory and circulatory systems

  • Students will learn additional details about how pollution affects the human body

  • Students will add pollution to their models of the respiratory/circulatory systems

Activity 7 (Elaborate): Asthma & the AQI

Timing: 30-45 minutes

Purpose: Learning how to live safely with asthma

  • Students will learn how to determine if the air quality on a given day is bad

  • Students will learn about how a treatment for asthma (inhaler) works

Activity 8 (Evaluate): Modeling Air Pollution & Human Health

Timing: 30-45 minutes

Purpose: Evaluating student understanding

  • Students will use a model to describe the path that oxygen takes to get to cells.

  • Students will label critical parts of the model.

  • Students will explain the cause & effect relationship between asthma and air pollution using the model

Module Materials

Module Materials

Activity 1 (Engage): Introducing Tatiana & Calvin

  • Handouts: Patient Record (teacher & student versions), KWL chart

  • Materials needed: Projector & speakers, anchor chart paper and markers


Activity 2 (Explore): Breathing & Exercise

  • Handouts: Experiment procedure & data collection sheet, Claim Evidence Reasoning summary

  • Materials needed: thin straws ~¼” diameter (one per pair of students), timer (one per group or one for the whole class)

  • Optional materials: stethoscopes (one per pair of students) and cleaning wipes, graph paper


Activity 3 (Explain): The Respiratory & Circulatory Systems

  • Handouts: Respiratory system diagram (labeled & unlabeled)

  • Materials needed: Computer & projector

  • Optional materials: student computers (recommended), headphones (or speakers) for video, red & blue or purple colored pencils/markers, vacuum cleaner hose


Activity 4 (Explain): Modeling the Respiratory & Circulatory Systems

  • Handouts: N/A

  • Materials needed: student notebooks/paper

  • Optional materials: speaker (for video)


Activity 5 (Explore): Seeing Ozone’s Effects on Living Things

  • Handouts: Leaf Investigation lab sheet

  • Materials needed: projector

  • Optional materials: microscopes, ozone-damaged leaves, leaf-mount slide materials (slide, cover slip, dropper, scotch tape), computers


Activity 6 (Explain): Air Pollution & Humans

  • Handouts: Asthma Attacks: Cause & Effect

  • Materials needed: KWL chart (from Activity 1), student models (from Activity 4), projector


Activity 7 (Elaborate): Asthma & the AQI

  • Handouts: Understanding the AQI handout

  • Materials needed: N/A

  • Optional materials: students smartphones (if permitted), projector

Activity 8 (Evaluate): Modeling Air Pollution & Human Health

  • Handouts: Summative assessment, scoring guide

  • Materials needed: N/A

Teacher Background Information

Teacher Background

Air Pollution & Exercise

American Lung Association, April 2000


Who is Vulnerable?

Millions of Americans live in areas where the air carries not only life-giving oxygen, but also

noxious pollutants that reach unhealthful levels, such as ozone, carbon monoxide, fine particles,

sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, or lead.

Exercise makes us more vulnerable to health damage from these pollutants. We breathe more air during exercise or strenuous work. We draw air more deeply into the lungs. And when we exercise heavily, we breathe mostly through the mouth, by-passing the body's first line of defense against pollution, the nose.

How Air Pollution Affects Your Body

Our lungs are among the body's primary points of contact with the outside world. We may drink two liters of liquid each day. We breathe in an estimated 15,000 liters of air, approximately 6 to 10 liters every minute, drawing life-giving oxygen across 600 to 900 square feet of surface area in tiny sacs inside the lung.

Oxygen is necessary for our muscles to function. In fact, the purpose of exercise training is to improve the body's ability to deliver oxygen. As a result, when we exercise, we may increase our intake of air by as much as ten times our level at rest.

An endurance athlete can process as much as twenty times the normal intake. Mouth breathing during exercise by-passes the nasal passages, the body's natural air filter. These facts mean that when we exercise in polluted air, we increase our contact with the pollutants, and increase our vulnerability to health damage. The interaction between air pollution and exercise is so strong that health scientists

typically use exercising volunteers in their research.

Minimize Your Risk: Manage Your Exercise

The news isn't all bad. You can minimize your exposure to air pollution by being aware of

pollution and by following some simple guidelines: If you live in an area susceptible to air

pollution, here's what you should do:

  • Do train early in the day or in the evening.

  • Do avoid midday or afternoon exercise, and avoid strenuous outdoor work, if possible, when ozone smog or other pollution levels are high.

  • Do avoid congested streets and rush hour traffic; pollution levels can be high up to 50 feet from the roadway.

  • Do make sure teachers, coaches and recreation officials know about air pollution and act accordingly.

  • Most important, do be aware of the quality of the air you breathe!


Don't do the following:

  • Don't take air pollution lightly, it can hurt all of us!

  • Don't engage in strenuous outdoor activity when local officials issue health warnings.

Source: American Lung Association. Air Pollution & Exercise

Children & Ozone Air Pollution Fact Sheet

American Lung Association, September 2000


While exposure to ozone air pollution causes adverse health effects in most people, children are especially susceptible to these effects. Children spend significantly more time outdoors, especially in the summertime when ozone levels are the highest.


National statistics show that children spend an average of 50 percent more time outdoors than do adults.


A recent study conducted by the American Lung Association shows that as many as 27.1 million children age 13 and under, and over 1.9 million children with asthma are potentially exposed to unhealthful levels of ozone based on the new 0.08 ppm, eight-hour ozone level standard.


Minority children are disproportionately represented in areas with high ozone levels.

Approximately 61.3% of black children, 69.2% of Hispanic children and 67.7% of Asian-

American children live in areas that exceed the 0.08 ppm ozone standard, while only 50.8%

of white children live in such areas.


Children spend more time engaged in vigorous activity (i.e., exercise). Such activity results in

breathing in more air, and therefore more pollution being taken deep into the lungs. A

California study found that children spend three times as much time engaged in sports and

vigorous activities as adults do.


Children have a higher breathing rate than adults relative to their body weight and lung surface area. This results in a greater dose of pollution delivered to their lungs. Most biological air pollution damage is related to the dose of pollution inhaled in relation to the body weight and surface area of the target organ.


Even when children experience significant drops in lung function, they do not seem to suffer

or report some of the acute symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing or shortness of breath,

associated with ozone exposure in adults. Thus, children are not likely to receive or may not

understand the biological warnings to reduce their ozone exposure by stopping their exercise

or moving indoors.


Children have narrower airways than do adults. Thus, irritation or inflammation caused by

air pollution that would produce only a slight response in an adult can result in a potentially

significant obstruction of the airways in a young child.


During exercise, children, like adults, breathe with both their nose and mouth rather than just their noses. When the nose is by-passed during the breathing process, the filtering effects of the nose are lost, therefore allowing more air pollution to be inhaled.


Air pollution, including ozone, can result in more frequent respiratory infections in children due to impairment of the lung's ability to defend itself. Scientists are concerned that children who experience more frequent lower respiratory infections may be at greater risk of lower-than-normal lung function later in life.

When ozone levels are high, children should avoid calisthenics, soccer, running and other strenuous outdoor exercise. They should be encouraged to participate in less strenuous activities such as recreational swimming, swinging or indoor activities such as floor hockey and gymnastics instead.


Source: American Lung Association, Children & Ozone Air Pollution Fact Sheet

Additional resources




Respiratory System:


Circulatory System:


Air Pollution & Human Health:

Doing Our Part

About this section


A "Doing Our Part" section is included in every module either as a list in the module overview or as part of one of the activities. It describes actions students can take to mitigate the effects of air pollution in their lives, and to help prevent air pollution from getting into the atmosphere. Many of these suggestions are the same from module to module, but there are variations depending on the focus of the module. While the actions from this section are not always explicitly built into the curriculum, they can be used in various ways to motivate students and provide them opportunities to take action to make a difference in their community.

​Here are some things that you can have your students do to protect themselves and their community from the harmful effects of air pollution:


  • Look up the AQI using a computer or install an air quality app on your phone or your parents’ phone. Use the AQI so you know when and how to avoid air pollution, especially on bad days.


  • Be prepared for bad air quality situations, especially if you have asthma. For example, take your inhaler with you when the AQI is bad, and think about how you can get home from school if the air quality is bad. If you know someone with asthma, remember what you can do if they have an asthma attack and need your help.


  • Avoid places where you know the air quality is likely to be bad, such as near roadways with lots of traffic (especially big trucks) or near power, cement, and chemical plants that are in your neighborhood. When walking to school, choose a route that stays away from busy streets.


  • If you sometimes have difficulty breathing, talk to your parent(s) or doctor so they can make sure you get the help you need.

Module 1 Air Quality Champion: Dr. Janet Phoenix

Name: Dr. Janet Phoenix

Title: Assistant Research Professor

Organization: George Washington University













What motivates you to come to work every day?

It motivates me to know that the work we do helps families keep their children healthy. I also like training the future health care workforce.


How did your education lead you to the position that you have today?

I majored in Anthropology in college, and I studied how culture, beliefs and health intersect. That was a great foundation for medical school at Howard University. After medical school I studied at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University.


What is your workspace like?

My office at George Washington University is in the middle of a densely populated urban center: Washington, D.C. When I am not conducting research, I am out in the city working with families of children with asthma. I also collaborate with organizations and agencies in the city that deal with asthma. Some of these agencies are responsible for improving housing conditions that make asthma worse like leaks and mold. I also work with agencies to write laws and enforce environmental regulations in order to keep people safer.


What accomplishment are you most proud of?

I am proud of forming a coalition called the Healthy Housing Collaborative. This group is working to improve housing conditions related to health for DC residents.


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

I underestimated the role of good public policy (laws and regulations) when I began my career. Without these laws and regulations, it is difficult to keep communities safe from pollution sources that make the air hazardous to breathe. Elected officials don’t always know how to keep the air clean. They depend upon citizens and experts to help them write and support environmental laws. It is important for you to understand the laws in your community, so you can make improvements and create new laws that are needed.

Janet Pheonix Headshot.jpg

How does your work relate to air quality?

I manage an asthma home visiting program. We provide education and tools for families to use to improve the health of their children with asthma. We provide vacuum cleaners to reduce allergic dust particles in the home, pest management for roaches and mice and dust mite covers for the bed. Many of the families we serve live in areas of the city where air quality is poor, because of close proximity to roadways. I also teach graduate students at George Washington University about how poverty and poor environmental conditions can contribute to poor health outcomes.

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