"Create a Cloud" and Connect Children to Weather and the Water Cycle

Many of the second grade classrooms in Burlington have recently investigated weather as a unit. Students typically learn about temperature and how to measure it before logging changes in temperature over two weeks along with wind conditions and cloud coverage. Inevitably, observing eyes and curious minds recognize day-to-day differences in all of these conditions. Depending on the season and the cooperation of the jet-stream, different types of clouds can be a part of this investigation as well.

The presentation linked to this blog is a fun, inter-disciplinary activity that can be shared at all primary grade levels. Before any cloud visuals are seen I take a globe from the classroom and share how the ancient Romans were the first civilization to record clouds by name, and that clouds have Latin names given to them thousands of years ago by the Romans of Italy. Romans named clouds based on their appearance, an activity that is easy to do with students as well!

For each of the slides seen above, the name of the cloud is actually faded out of the picture at first, giving students a chance to think, pair, and share their ideas about what they might name the different cloud types. Once ample discussion has been had in groups and as a class, the name is revealed and the actual Latin to English translation is given for each cloud type. Along with the names of the clouds I typically stress how clouds can be indicators of coming weather. Cirrus clouds indicate fair weather, while stratus clouds are prevalent in low pressure systems and can carry precipitation with them. The cumulonimbus cloud is of particular interest, as it is an indicator of severe weather such as thunderstorms and heavy rain here in the northeast, but heavy rain, hail and even tornadoes in other regions of the United States.

After the discussion based slideshow is over, a teacher-led demonstration of how and why clouds form in the sky is performed. The video above provides ample explanation for how to go about setting up your “cloud machine” and more detailed explanations for teachers behind the science of the cloud formation. What makes this demonstration so great is the introduction (or review!) of the different phases of matter water can easily take on (all are present in the demo) and a concrete example of how water as a gas will actually rise and later condense above the body of water it came from. While I would love to do this activity student-led, I am not about to let young students experiment with hot plates. I would love to hear how others might better demonstrate the water cycle and phase changes of matter. Please share in the comments section below!

Images used in the “Cloud Program” presentation are used under the Creative Commons free-use license. Links to the photographers and artists can be found in the SMART Software file attached by clicking on the corner object of each image.  For non-smartboard users download the PDF version.

About Sean Musselman

Teacher Dad and Burlington MA Schools K-5 Science and Social Studies Curriculum Coordinator. NSTA Professional Development facilitator and author of "Think Like a Scientist: Investigating Weather and Climate" NSTA Kids ebook.
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