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There's Something in the Air

Author(s): Nancy Moreno, PhD, Barbara Tharp, MS, and Judith Dresden, MS.

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In this activity, students will compare the dispersal of odors indoors and outdoors as a model for the movement of pollutants in the air. They will discover that many small particles travel through and are dispersed in the air we breathe. Students will make predictions and observations, record and compare data, and draw conclusions based on their investigation.

Divide the class into three groups. Tell the members of one group to sit on the two-meter marks of different pieces of yarn. Similarly, arrange the second group on the four-meter marks and the third group on the six-meter marks.

Stand in the center of the “String Wheel,” holding an orange. Tell the students that they should raise their hands as soon as they smell the scent of the orange. Begin to peel the orange, and slowly turn around. Record the time it takes for approximately three-fourths of the students at each distance to raise their hands.

On the board, create a class graph showing the time it took for students sitting at each distance to smell the orange. Leave the graph on the board. You may wish to repeat the experiment using things such as vinegar and air freshener.

Repeat the entire experiment in an outdoor location. After returning to the classroom, make a second graph, using the same scale as on the first, to show the time required for odors to travel outdoors.


Funded by the following grant(s)

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, NIH

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, NIH

The Environment as a Context for Opportunities in Schools
Grant Numbers: 5R25ES010698, R25ES06932


Houston Endowment Inc.

Houston Endowment Inc.

Foundations for the Future: Capitalizing on Technology to Promote Equity, Access and Quality in Elementary Science Education