TNRCC Home Page Office of Air Quality

Monitoring Operations

February 24, 1997

Let's Catch Some Dirt from the Air


To try to collect some dirt from the air and find out where it came from.

Grade Level:

PK and K

Essential Elements:

Environmental Essential Elements Across the Curriculum - 75.21(g)(2) Intellectual development. Knowledge of integrated content. The student shall be provided opportunities to (A) identify: (iii) use the senses to gain information about objects from the environment emphasing color, texture, taste, odor, sound, size, shape, direction, motion, heat/cold, and sink/float.

(h)(1) Aesthetic development. Visual arts. The student shall be provided opportunities to (C) examine and respond to visual and multisensory characteristics in a variety of subjects, objects, and events to develop awareness and sensitivity to natural and human-made environments.

75.22(a)(3) Social/emotional development. Social responsibility. The student shall be provided opportunities to (C) develop an emerging awareness of environmental issues.


Students will try to discover if there is dirt in the air.


Ring the bell and have children form a line/circle. In an excited voice, tell the students that you need their help to catch something. Let them guess what you are going to catch. Tell them you are going to try to catch some dirt from the air.


Cardboard squares, aluminum foil, scissors, string, petroleum jelly, hole puncher, Scotch tape, magnifying glasses


Most major air pollutants are invisible, although large amounts of them concentrated in areas such as cities can be see as smog. One often visible air pollutant is particulate matter, especially when the surfaces of buildings and other structures have been exposed to it for long periods of time or when it is present in large amounts. Particulate matter is made up of tiny particles of solid matter and/or droplets of liquid. Natural sources include volcanic ash, pollen, and dust blown about by the wind. Coal and oil burned by power plants and industries and diesel fuel burned by many vehicles are the chief sources of man-made particulate pollutants, but not all important sources are large scale. The use of wood in fireplaces and wood-burning stoves also produces significant amounts of particulate matter in localized areas, although the total amounts are much smaller than those from vehicles, power plants, and industries.


  1. Have children cover the cardboard squares with aluminum foil making it as smooth as possible. Secure with tape if necessary. Punch a hole in the top and tie some string onto it.
  2. Plan some places to hang the "catchers." Try to hang them in a variety of places around the outside of the school.
  3. Outside, carefully apply a thin coat of petroleum jelly to both sides of the catcher. Carefully hang it. Repeat with remaining catchers. Be sure to chart locations.
  4. Check the catchers and bring them in after a day or two. Check for dirt. Have the children draw the results and make comparisons.
  5. Using magnifying glasses, try to determine what the dirt is and try to find out where it came from.
  6. Discuss their observations and inferences.



50 simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth, The Earth Works Group, Berkeley, CA, 1989.


Patricia Lee Henry, Texas Southern University Houston TES Course, 1995

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