Air Pollution Lab- Airborne Particulates for Distance Learning

One of the best and easy-to-implement labs in my class is an air pollution lab. Traditionally, my students are in person as we use petri dishes, but this year, I came up with an at-home lab for distance learning. This lab can be used in many different courses and I use it in unit 7 for AP® Environmental Science. Click for a student version of the at-home lab. The original in-person lab can be found on this post.

At this point in my curriculum, my students have performed a controlled a experiment about soil salinization and have designed a noise pollution lab in Unit 5 so they do not need much scaffolding. This lab gives them further practice with experimental design.

Experimental design lab is essential for students to do a few times in the year, because the AP® Exam WILL have experimental design questions in the multiple choice section and on FRQ #1. It is AP Science Practice # 4: Scientific Experiments.

Materials for the Airborne Particulates At-Home Lab

  • 3 index cards OR pieces of paper
  • Vaseline, Chapstick, lip gloss or something else that clear and sticky
  • Ruler or PDF of ruler
  • Ziploc bag with toothpicks, or a sealed food container
  • Magnifier on a Smartphone (Best option is a free app with magnifying glass with light, but you can also use the built-in magnifier on a phone along with a separate light source)

Day 1

Day one of the air pollution lab takes about 45-60 minutes. Student lab groups brainstorm and come up with a question to test, a hypothesis, and design. They must get approval from me before making their cards.  My students have already done an experimental design lab so this process is fairly quick at this point. If this is the first experimental design lab of the year, expect this to take longer and for students to need more revision.

Student sample (from the original in-person lab)

This lab is challenging with the constants. They can never really isolate all the variables and because of this, they will get flawed data. This is really important!!   Analyzing the weaknesses in their lab help them identify flawed experiments later on in life and on the AP® Exam. I aim to develop scientifically literature citizens.

I give students some ideas such as comparing indoor vs. outdoor particulates, front yard vs. back yard or the number of pets. Some students come up with very creative ideas outside of these suggestions.

If rain is in the forecast, make sure they don’t set out the cards in the rain (or sprinklers). Also, they need to make sure they all set out the cards on the same day for the same amount of time, because weather can influence.

After approvals, students make their cards. Students need to put one card in a sealed bag or food container as the control.

Here is a YouTube video I made showing students how to make their cards.

Day 2 of the Airborne Particulates Lab

Day 2 of the air pollution lab is several days later. With this lab, it can take a week to get enough particulates that students can see with their phone magnifiers instead of a stereoscope.

Students can download a free app “magnifying glass+ light” or they can use the built-in magnifier on their phones. If they use the built-in ones, they will need another source of bright light. Below is a screenshot of a the particulates using the app.

I provide a spreadsheet template for students to use if they wish, but they will not turn it in as I am grading their graphs. I also provide sample data and graphs as reference and a YouTube Link for how to make graphs using this google sheets template. (Click on links in this paragraph for these resources)

Assessment

My students make and present posters for this air pollution lab and in distance learning, they make a google slide. Click for a template of the google slide presentation that my students fill in per group. It really helps them discuss and analyze the results. Why their hypothesis was correct or not AND more importantly, why this lab was flawed. They can never fully control all the variables and I want them to see that other factors may have influenced their results. This is the best part of the lab–learning to identify flawed experiments.

My poster template is inspired by Argument-Based Inquiry, but I have added more sections and clearer instructions.

You can also have students write a formal lab report individual or as a group as assessment as well.

Click for a poster rubric.

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