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From Global to City Air: Air Quality, City Design and Disease
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The following question is increasingly asked by everyone as the rates of children affected by asthma increase.

  • Why is asthma worse today?
  • Why is asthma increasing in epidemic portions?

The quality of air impacts human health dramatically and in turn humans affect air quality. The relationship between air quality and human health is pointedly clear in this unit as students explore the built community, buildings, highways, and industrial parks, plus environmental and human health.

Using city designs from across the globe students investigate the properties of air and how a city’s physical layout and growth can impact air quality. Human health is an important consideration in city planning. Links between air pollution and such illnesses as asthma and allergies have been established by biomedical researchers.

The amount of air pollution present in a city is affected by the weather and air flow, human construction, and traffic patterns in that region. Through this unit, students build their understanding of how city development, air movement and air quality all contribute to respiratory illnesses. They demonstrate their grasp of this topic via their design of a “healthy air” city located in one of ten locations where large cities exist today.

This unit addresses the education standards for 9th grade.

Major Project
Students take on the role of city planners as they design a healthy city. Using the actual physical geographical location of major cities, they develop a scaled model of a city including the zones within a city. Students focus on excellent air quality as a feature of a healthy city and using their understanding of climate, weather, and air movement, design their city accordingly.

In science class, students will discover the following to prepare them to consider these concepts in the major project:

  • How winds and water can carry pollutants in predictable paths following currents
  • How geography affects climate
  • How microclimates can be affected by geography and human construction

In language arts, students work with non-fiction texts as they analyze historical journals and literary devices to uncover values and beliefs held by the authors.

Students also learn to write formal papers to prepare them for the formal city proposal as part of the major project.

Finally, in social studies, students will learn about human settlement, city design and how physical systems impact human systems as they design and construct a scale model city conducive to air quality health.

Image of a car polluting the air

Scientist Profile - Mark Riley


For more information and background check out this great article
Death by Particles: The Link Between Air Pollution and Fatal Coronary Heart Disease in Women
from Environmental Health Perspectives

Week - Connection Earth Science World Geography Language Arts Math
Week 1
In science students will begin their study of global pollution problems by learning about air and water currents.  Through social studies they will look at the cultural and economic advantages that lead to people live in cities.  Language arts will support these two themes by introducing the many ways in which journal writing has been used for scientific, historical, and literary purposes.  Math will help to expand on the concept of global interconnection by examining the radioactive contamination released by the Chernobyl accident.
How’d That Pollution Get There? Describe my City A History of Journal Writing

Chernobyl 1 - Radiation Released

Chernobyl 2 - Air Currents

Fallout! Types of Journal Writing
World Wide Winds    
Week 2
Students will delve into the development of atmospheric convection cells and the Coriolis Effect in science.  In social studies students will analyze various aspects of Mexico City and the factors involved in human migration.  Math supports this by examining how population density figures for large cities are calculated.   Meanwhile in language arts students will conclude their exploration of journals by looking at how this literary form was crucial in documenting the tragic Shackleton Antarctic Expedition.

Atmospheric Cells Human Migration in the US Survival Diaries How Many People Live There?
Winds Go Spinning Around Hello Mexico City A Voyage of Endurance
Pollution Over Where? What’s in The City’s Future  
Message in a Bottle    
Week 3
Science will focus on what affects the world’s ocean currents.  In social studies students will build upon the concepts learned in science by seeing how climate and geography influence how people live in cities.  Students will identify what kind of readers they are in language arts and how to improve this skill.


 Your Favorite Hobbies Meta-cognitive Reading  
 Ancient Cities Revisiting Reading Strategies
Current Interactions  Getting to Work Identify That Strategy
  Applying Reading Strategies
Week 4
In science students will continue to explore the world’s ocean currents and how these affect the climate on land.  Social studies classes will expand on this by looking at the connections between geography, climate, city functions, residents activities, and air pollution.  In language arts students will examine cultural influences on the creation of and understanding of literature.

 Fun in the City Reading Multicultural Literature  
Tanker Spill Looking for the Dirty Scoop Looking Through Lenses
Climate Patterns   Analyzing Perspectives

Week 5
As science classes examines how toxicants of environmental health importance are transported through the air social studies classes will look at how these affect city residents and how people try to minimize the negative aspects through laws.  English classes will begin an in-depth study of literary analysis.

Climate Patterns cont... Not in My City Intro to Literary Analysis  
Rain Shadows and Sea Breezes Plot Structure
Air Masses Saved by the Law Figurative Language
Cold Fronts Stylistic Devices
Week 6
Students will look at acid rain and weather patterns in science.  In social studies the students will begin exploring the numerous and complex issues involved in creating a healthy city.  Math will help the students understand Cartesian coordinates and the basic terms of navigation.  In language arts students will apply their knowledge of literary analysis, look at the different levels of formality in speech, and learn about letter writing.

Acid Rain Smart Cities Practicing Literary Analysis Where Are We?
  Dreaming of A Healthy City Language Registers
Planning of A Healthy City Formal Letter Writing
Week 7
In social studies students will begin the final project in which they apply their understanding of the effects of city design on air quality and environmental health. Meanwhile in science they will learn the differences between convection and inversion while also looking at the impact that a city’s size has on its air quality.  In language arts students will learn about the components of a formal essay and begin writing one on city development.

What makes the Air Brown Building of A Healthy City Formal Essay Process  
Inversion Layers Thesis Statement
CO2 City Simulation Intros & Conclusions
Topic Sentences & Transitions
Pollutant Poster Sentence Variety & Fluency
Week 8
In both social studies and science classes students will complete their work on the final project of applying what they have learned about the effects of city design on air quality and environmental health.  In language arts students will finish writing their formal essay on city development.
Building of A Healthy City Proofread  
Final Draft

PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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Last update: November 10, 2009
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