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Context & Connections.  How did you decide to explore the topic of clouds?  Clouds can be directly linked to two “umbrella” topics that are appropriate for young children, namely, the water cycle and the weather.  These umbrella topics provide context to your exploration of clouds, and provide relevant child-world experiential references. 

There is, however, a hierarchal relationship between the two umbrella topics that can be described as follows:  Water Cycle > Weather > Clouds; or, Water Cycle > Clouds.  Another way of thinking about this is that the subject of clouds has a contextual relationship, relevance, to an exploration of the water cycle and/or an exploration of weather.  The subject of clouds is not a stand-alone topic.  Rather, it can and should be connected first and foremost to the water cycle.  Similarly, a “cloud in a bottle” experiment is not a stand-alone demonstration.  To provide context to the experiment, explore the subject of clouds.


How To Develop Your Clouds Science Story

To develop content, begin by asking yourself questions about clouds. This process will be useful in developing your science story and will also provide you with questions for your in-class exploration. Incorporate process development skills in your exploration using: same, but different; compare & contrast; sort & match; and, what if...scenario-type questions. Ask the same questions in different ways.

In the process of asking questions and filling-in the blanks you will develop your science story.

What is a cloud?  How can we describe clouds?  How are clouds formed?  Where do you see clouds?  Do all clouds look the same?  How are clouds different from one another?  What are clouds made of?  How many different kinds of clouds are there?  Why are clouds important?  What if there weren't any clouds?

Depending on your familiarity with the subject of clouds, you may or may not know that there are three main types of clouds.  A quick study of clouds using a reference book with good cloud pictures, which you can use for your class exploration, will provide you with this information.  With this new knowledge about cloud types you are now able to ask additional questions, refining your content as you continue to develop questions. 

 What are the three main types of clouds?  Is there only one type of cirrus cloud, cumulus or stratus?  How can I show the variation in each cloud type?  How can I describe these cloud types without using the technical names?  What types of activities or experiments can I use to enhance the exploration of clouds?  When should I use direct observation of clouds in the exploration, beginning and/or end?

As you will note, you can ask your class a subset of these questions as you tell your clouds science story.  In addition, the last few questions help you to formulate a strategy and provide a framework for determining what kind of experiments and demonstrations to include in your exploration. 

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Developing Science Stories


Types of Clouds...Same, But Different.

There are three main types of clouds.  They are named in part based on their shapes.  The names denoting shapes are: cumulus, stratus and cirrus. 


Cumulus clouds can be described as white, fluffy and puffy. Depending on their size they may indicate fair weather (not very tall and isolated) or a brewing thunderstorm (huge masses).


Stratus clouds form stacked sheets across the sky like a thick blanket.  These clouds are often seen on overcast days and during rainstorms. 


Cirrus clouds are located very high in the sky and are made up of ice crystals.  Cirrus clouds have a curly or wispy appearance and tend to be “sheer.” 


FYI:  How Clouds Are Named. 

Clouds are named based on their shape and altitude (height) in the sky.  The altitude is denoted as a prefix.  Clouds above 20,000 feet are named cirro; mid-level clouds between 6,000-20,000 feet have the prefix alto. There are no prefixes for low-level clouds.

How Clouds Form...
Water, in the form of water vapor, moves up into atmosphere through the
processes of evaporation and transpiration. When warm rising air meets colder air, condensation occurs.  The degree of condensation and cloud formation depends on the presence of nuclei, in the form of dust, smoke, salt or other forms of particulate pollution in the air, around which the water vapor condenses to build up clouds.  Cloud size is influenced by many factors, including:  temperature, seasons, mountain ranges, bodies of water, and volcanic eruptions. 

Why Does It Rain, Snow, Sleet or Hail?  Precipitation occurs when the air becomes saturated with moisture.  Depending on the temperature, the water returns to the Earth in the form of rain, snow, sleet or hail. 


See more at: how2WATERCYCLE

how2CLOUDS Contextual Activities

To reinforce your exploration of clouds, have your class create an activity sheet, depicting each of the three main kinds of clouds.  It is recommended that you explore the water cycle before exploring clouds in order to deepen your class’ understanding of clouds and the role clouds play in the water cycle.  As you explore clouds, you will have an opportunity to review water cycle processes and can also include a simple water cycle diagram on your activity sheet. 






Where Do You See Clouds?  The obvious answer and a good one is up in the sky, unless, of course, you live in an area that is routinely blanketed by fog.  Clouds are rarely seen in the desert because there is very little water available for evaporation and which can be used to form clouds. Coastal regions, on the other hand, have more clouds and receive more rain in part because there is more moisture available that evaporates from the oceans.

Have you ever seen a rainbow in the clouds? Ocassionally, shortly after sunrise when the sun is low in the sky and there is an abundance of cirrus type clouds, you can sometimes see a small rainbow in the clouds. In this case, sunlight is refracted by the ice crystals in the cirrus clouds (instead of raindrops as with a rainbow).

how2 Embed Opportunities For Further Learning-Using Observable Phenomenon. 

The topic of clouds is an easily observable phenomenon and within the child’s experiential scope.  When you explore clouds, you can take your class on a field trip to observe what type of clouds happen to be up in the sky, looking specifically for examples of the fluffy, layered and wispy kind. 

By including the direct observation exercise at the conclusion of your exploration, or at the beginning and end, you embed a cue for your class to use their powers of observation to look up at the sky and observe the clouds.  Any day, every day, the child can independently explore clouds.  In addition, if your exploration is framed against the backdrop of the weather, your class can continue to use their observations to independently make assessments, determinations and hypotheses about the weather.  You can help to frame their initial discovery experiences by posing the following questions: 

Is it sunny or cloudy?  Is it rainy or clear? What is the temperature outside?  If it’s cold (winter), what kind of precipitation might you expect to see?  Does it look like it might rain outside?  How can you tell? 


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Opportunities for Further Learning


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