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Does air have weight?

Arlene Levine, National Aeronautics and Space Administration

The purpose of this hands-on activity is to demonstrate that air has weight and how this fact can be concretely illustrated. Eventually and through more experience gained by conducting mind-engaging activities, the learner will come to a basic understanding that a given volume of air at higher elevations is less dense and has fewer molecules per volume than a similar volume at lower elevations.

This activity takes one 50-minute class period. Additional materials are required.

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Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • Balances found in most schools could be used to demonstrate same concrete understanding of air having weight as building a pivotal balance. Building the scientific tool could also be beneficial, but is not essential to lesson understanding.
  • Build a test version of the apparatus ahead of instruction to see where students might have trouble.
  • Make sure to give students safety tips on how to handle a hammer and nails, and advise them to also wear safety goggles.
  • Ask students to come up with ideas on how they could determine if air weighs anything before they conduct this investigation.

About the Science

  • This activity is centered around the concept that air has weight.
  • Teachers might need to stress the fact that there is also air inside of the balloon that is not blown up, and clearly connect the weight of air and air/vapor pressure.
  • Students engage in visually-compelling activities that develop their basic understanding that a given volume of air at higher elevations is less dense and has fewer molecules per volume than a similar volume at lower elevations.
  • Passed initial science review - expert science review pending.

About the Pedagogy

  • Students build their own scale to test the weight of an inflated balloon vs. a balloon that is not inflated. The goal is to discover that air has weight. The lesson is fairly simple but is an illustrative demonstration of the concept.
  • Learners use data from their investigation to draw conclusions.
  • The teacher's guide is a nice length - not too long, but easy to understand and implement the activity.
  • The activity is a bit prescriptive on telling students what they will be trying to find out and giving them step-by-step instructions on how to do it. Teachers may want to ask students first how they might figure out if air has weight and letting them do more of their own thinking around this.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Teachers may want to ask students to wear safety goggles when using hammer and nails.
  • This activity could be tricky for students with physical disabilities.
  • The prep time required for teachers is minimal and reasonable. The costs seem minimal as well.
  • This activity is missing some supplemental materials, such as Appendix V referred to in the activity.

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