Understanding Air
  • Using LEGO© bricks in the Understanding Air workshop
    Using LEGO bricks in the Understanding Air workshop

This lesson is appropriate for children ages 11 and up.

Understanding Air emphasizes the molecular composition of air. Using LEGO® bricks as atoms, the students build a model of air and then combust fuel models to produce additional carbon dioxide and air pollutants.

Watch the Partners in Public Health webinar presentation by Kathleen Vandiver on the Atoms and Molecules set, with a focus on the Understanding Air lesson. Beginning time: 4:24; end time: 24:05.    

Lesson Plan

Listed below under Supporting Documents is a student worksheet key that is similar to the student worksheet keys found in the Photosynthesis and Chemical Reactions lessons. This worksheet key contains both the answers and useful comments. The comments are designed to serve as a guide for leading the lesson.


LEGO Atoms and Molecules Sets (if you don't have these LEGO kits, see below)

Standard LEGO bricks can be used and will serve for our Photosynthesis and Chemical Reactions lessons as well. The  Atoms and Molecules Layout Mat shows the recommended LEGO bricks. We chose these bricks because they can be used to illustrate a number of chemical and biological concepts. Their colors match those commonly used in other chemical models, though other colors may be substituted. The layout mat can also be used as an easy clean up tool to check if students have all their bricks.

Building blocks (such as LEGO) can be purchased from toy manufacturers or the LEGO.com website. You might also arrange a LEGO brick donation with your local Parent Teacher Association.

For educators planning to teach only the "Understanding Air" lessons, you may collect the following (fewer) number of bricks per student kit:

  • 20 blue 2x4 bricks (nitrogen atoms)
  • 12 red 2x4 bricks (oxygen atoms)
  • 10 black 2x4 bricks (carbon atoms)
  • 20 white 1x2 bricks (hydrogen atoms)

Note: "2x4" and "1x2" refer to the number of bumps on top of the LEGO bricks.

Supporting Documents

To create your own materials, download and print the following documents. Important directions for printing: Set the printer scaling to "0%" or "none" so that the LEGO bricks on the printouts are actual size. Print two-page documents back-to-back and laminate if possible; or print one-sided and place inside a plastic sleeve. Keep these instructions with the LEGO kits you make. You will also need to print out worksheet for the students and a worksheet teacher guide/answer key for yourself.

Air: For both worksheets and key pages 1-4: Use this version if your students have  already been introduced to the concepts of elements, compounds, and mixtures and physical and chemical change. This is a 4-page document about air and climate change.


Air + Basic: For both worksheets and key pages 1-7: Use this version if your students have not been introduced to the concepts of elements, compounds, and mixtures and physical and chemical change. This document includes the introductory worksheets about these topics. Do this intro lesson first although it is found on the last pages: 5,6,7. 


The Air Chemistry and Pollution Reactions Mat is optional, and is recommended for advanced students only. The Vog Mat is also optional and not included as part of the lesson.

Curriculum Standards

The lesson meets the following Chemistry Items of the Massachusetts State Frameworks for grades 6-8, Physical Sciences Strand: Elements, Compounds & Mixtures):

  • 5. Recognize that there are more than 100 elements that combine in a multitude of ways to produce compounds that make up all of the living and nonliving things that we encounter.
  • 6. Differentiate between an atom (the smallest unit of an element that maintains the characteristics of that element) and a molecule (the smallest unit of a compound that maintains the characteristics of that compound).
  • 8. Differentiate between mixtures and pure substances.
  • 7. Give basic examples of elements and compounds.

The lesson also helps to meet the following Earth and Space Science items of the Massachusetts State Frameworks for grades 6-8, Earth and Space Sciences Strand: 2. Energy Resources in the Earth System:

Central Concepts: Energy resources are used to sustain human civilization. The amount and accessibility of these resources influence their use and their impact on the environment. 2.1 Recognize, describe, and compare renewable energy resources (e.g., solar, wind, water, biomass) and nonrenewable energy resources (e.g., fossil fuels, nuclear energy).

2.2 Describe the effects on the environment.

Contact us if you would like to learn how to use the materials at our next workshop or if you would like to inquire about acquiring a classroom set including LEGO bricks.

LEGO®, the LEGO logo, and the brick and knob configurations are trademarks of the LEGO group, used here with permission. ©MIT. All rights reserved.