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Clouds:  A Multidisciplinary Study

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Grade Level: Grade 3 but adaptable to 3-5

Estimated Time for Completing Activity: Three 45-minute study blocks

Learning Outcomes:
  • To identify a cloud and how it is formed.
  • To create an acrostic poem.
  • To gather and display data using appropriate graphs.
National Standards:
  • Standard A:  Science as Inquiry
  • Standard D:  Earth and Space Science
Virginia Standards of Learning:
  • Science 3.1 : The student will demonstrate an understanding of scientific reasoning, logic, and the nature of science by planning and conducting investigations.
  • Science 4.1 : The student will demonstrate an understanding of scientific reasoning, logic, and the nature of science by planning and conducting investigations.
  • Science 4.6 : The student will investigate and understand how weather conditions and phenomena occur and can be predicted.
  • Science 5.1 : The student will demonstrate an understanding of scientific reasoning, logic, and the nature of science by planning and conducting investigations.
  • English 3.7 : The student will demonstrate comprehension of information from a variety of print and electronic resources.
  • English 3.10 : The student will edit writing for correct grammar, capitalization, punctuation, and spelling.
  • English 3.11 : The student will write a short report.
  • English 4.7 : The student will write cohesively for a variety of purposes.
  • English 4.8 : The student will edit writing for correct grammar, capitalization, spelling, punctuation, sentence structure, and paragraphing.
  • English 5.8 : The student will edit writing for correct grammar, capitalization, spelling, punctuation, sentence structure, and paragraphing.
  • English 5.9 : The student will find, evaluate, and select appropriate resources for a research product.
  • Math 3.13 : The student will read temperature to the nearest degree from a Celsius thermometer and a Fahrenheit thermometer. Real thermometers and physical models of thermometers will be used.
  • Math 3.17 : The student will a) collect and organize data, using observations, measurements, surveys, or experiments; b) construct a line plot, a picture graph, or a bar graph to represent the data; and c) read and interpret the data represented in line plots, bar graphs, and picture graphs and write a sentence analyzing the data.
  • Math 4.14 : The student will collect, organize, display, and interpret data from a variety of graphs.
  • Math 5.15 : The student, given a problem situation, will collect, organize, and interpret data in a variety of forms, using stem-and-leaf plots and line graphs.
Prerequisite: The student should understand the basic use of a thermometer, have general knowledge of the Water Cycle, and be able to plot data on a bar graph.

  • Thermometers
  • "Hotpot" or other method of boiling water
  • Water (for boiling)
  • Cotton balls
  • Construction paper
  • Pencil
  • Notebook or writing paper
Lesson Links:
Background: Warm air rises into the sky.  As it rises, it begins to cool, and water vapor in the air condenses on very small particles to form clouds. A cloud is a collection of water droplets floating in formations above Earth's surface.  The three main types of clouds are cirrus, cumulus, and stratus. There is also a fourth type, convective clouds, which includes thunderstorms (See the Teacher Notes section of this lesson.)

(See the S'COOL Website for more information on clouds.)

Procedure: This is an interdisciplinary lesson.  Included are opportunities to weave cloud study into Science, Language Arts and Math.  Feel free to use the lessons to teach an interdisciplinary unit or individual lessons.
  • Science
    • Introduction: Facilitate a basic discussion of clouds to pique student interest in the topic. Point out to the students that clouds are all around us.  Ask them to share their own experiences in observing clouds.
    • Demonstration: Conduct a demonstration illustrating the formation of a “cloud”.  (Refer to Extension section for additional demonstration ideas.) Using the hotpot, heat water until steam appears above the hotpot.  Explain to the students that the steam is similar to a cloud.  It consists of small water droplets in the air. Make sure to mention that when you can see your breath in cold winter air, that is also like a cloud:  droplets are condensing as the warm moist air from our lungs mixes with the colder, drier outside air. Other examples are fog and mist that occur naturally. Clouds in the sky are formed when moisture is present, the air is cooled to the saturation point and there are condensation nuclei present (such as dust).  Air collects moisture that evaporates as it passes over a body of water.  When warm, moist air rises and cools, droplets of water are formed.  This is called condensation.  Refer to students’ knowledge of the water cycle.  Tie their understanding of the phases of matter to cloud formation.  The droplets stick to the condensation nuclei and clump together to form a cloud.  A cloud is a collection of millions of these droplets.  They appear white when sunlight hits them and is reflected off them.  Be sure to mention the three main cloud types (See Lesson Links)

  • Language Arts: Express to your students that today’s language arts time will support their science studies.  They will be challenged to take the information from their cloud discussion and any cloud observations they may have made up to this point, and write about them in the form of poetry.  Today’s poem will be an acrostic.  An acrostic poem is one where the first letter of each line spells out another word or message.  In this case the word will be CLOUDS.  Have each student write the word CLOUDS down the left hand side of their paper.  Now, use the letter on each line to inspire a word, thought or sentence relevant to clouds.  When the poems are complete, allow the students to peer edit.  You may also allow class time for students to share their poems.  For visual interest, the poems can be published on cloud shaped paper or paper printed with clouds.  This could actually spring board into an art activity as well.  Display the poems in class for others to view.   (See Teacher Notes for sample acrostic poem)

  • Mathematics Activity: Begin the lesson by explaining how math and science relate especially in the area of data collection and display.  Using graphs to organize and display information is a very important tool for both mathematicians and scientists.  Have the students begin by collecting data over a set amount of time.  Five days would be a good starting point, however you may want to adjust to your students and their abilities.  Explain that the two data sets you will be using are Daily Temperature and Percentage of Cloud Cover.   Review with students how to read a thermometer and the units they can use.  Use the information from the S'COOL Website to explain how to measure percentage of cloud cover.  Have the students  personally record the data in a table or research journal as you record it on a class chart.
    Divide students into two groups.  Have one group plot a bar graph showing the temperature and the other group plot a bar graph showing the percentage of cloud cover.  Have each group present their findings.  Combine graphs to see if there is a relationship between the percent of cloud cover and the temperature.  Have students discuss this relationship.

  • Questions:
    1. Why might cloud cover influence temperature?  What other factors might influence temperature?
    3. What was the range of temperature over our collection days?
    5. Determine the mode of the data in the two graphs.  Were there any extreme values (very warm or very cold days) that might have affected the calculations? Provide examples to support your answer.
    7. Determine the median of the data in the two graphs.  Were the median values affected by any extreme temperatures? Provide examples to support your answer.
    9. Do you think our graphs show a pattern that is typical of this time of year? Do you think the mode and median values are typical for this time of year? Explain your answers.
    11. What factors might influence our set of data? Explain your answer.
  • Allow students to come up with additional questions for the rest of the class.

  • Have students brainstorm other weather data that could be tracked, compiled and displayed in a graph.

  • The teacher may want to elaborate on the cloud demonstration during the Science portion of the lesson.    Consider referring to lesson    #87 in which the demonstration allows the teacher to actually create a cloud in a bottle.
  • As a form of reflection, have the students write about how each part of the lesson relates to the    other. This will provide opportunity to reflect on the interdisciplinary connections of the lesson.
Teacher Notes:
  • This lesson emphasizes the three main cloud types: cumulus, stratus, and cirrus. Depending on ability of    students, a fourth cloud category, convective clouds, may be introduced. The classification, convective    clouds, includes cumulonimbus (towering cumulus clouds and thunderstorms). These clouds have a vertical    development that can extend through all three levels (low, middle, and high).
  • To introduce the lesson, you may want to use two NASA eClips videos, “Our World: Cool Clouds” and “Our World: What is a Cloud”.  The videos can be used to introduce the lesson or can be incorporated as a review.  You may also do a search of other cloud-related eClips videos by entering “clouds” in the search box on the NASA eClips website
  • .  
  • The following is an example of an acrostic poem.  
    • C louds are collections of water droplets
    • L ow or high, the clouds fill up the sky
    • O bservations help us determine what the clouds will do next
    • U nique formations, decorating the heavens
    • D roplets are formed when the temperature drops and this is called condensation.
    • S unlight reflected off the droplets appears white
  • The Science lesson is a unit introduction. The teacher may assess participation and engagement through    observation; however, it would not be appropriate to assess knowledge of content at this point.
  • The Language Arts lesson can be assessed by the student's accuracy in following the guideline of an    acrostic, and by the quality of cloud information included.
  • The Mathematics lesson can be assessed by thoroughness of the data collection and accuracy of the graphs.
Reference: Lesson Plan developed by Amy Vereen and Sarah Robertson, Chesapeake School System, Virginia, USA, for NASA's S'COOL Project. Updates: November 1999 by Carolyn J. Green, S'COOL Team; July 2008 by Kathy Gibbs, Hampton Public Schools, VA; and, January 2011 by the S'COOL Team.

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