Clouds Connect Learners to the Local Environment & Nature Studies

Looking Up: Cloud Studies Connect to Citizen Science, Language Learning, and Weather Studies

Screen Shot 2016-04-24 at 5.07.40 PMConnecting easily to language skills, literacy, sense of place, and, of course, all manner of science, clouds offer themselves as rich and vaporous objects of study. Cloud watchers of all ages can learn about everything from descriptive language and cloud types to global weather patterns and satellite imaging just by paying close attention to the sky. Through citizen science projects, fiction and nonfiction literature, and web-based resources, families with scientists of any age can use cloud studies as an entry point for examining a variety of topics and practicing a multitude of skills. 

The most basic of cloud studies begins simply by looking up. Whether the sky’s white fluff takes on the shape of a rabbit or a backhoe, studying the shape, size, and makeup of clouds presents young scientists with the opportunity to build schema relating to clouds. Additionally, cloud observations are a perfect time to practice language skills, allowing young observers to put adjectives to good use, and challenging older observers to dig into the depths of their language-based knowledge in order to describe what they see with specificity. Families can even try to identify the clouds that they see based on their descriptions – to describe and identify, try using The Old Farmer’s Almanac for Kids’ cloud guide and a kid-friendly thesaurus, such as local educator Ken Pransky’s My Fantastic Words Book. Sophisticated observers can add specificity to their observations and categorizations by drawing on information shared in images within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s collection of cloud images, an online archive of beautiful and detailed shots of specific types of cloud cover.

Families can add structure and purpose to their cloud studies by using project ideas developed by NASA. Clouds for Kids, designed for ages 6-10, helps young scientists begin to make meaning of their cloud observations, and links observational data to possible extension projects like creating a cloud calendar or an identification chart. For audiences 11 and older, Cloud Studies calls for cloud watchers to become citizen scientists, taking specific data about clouds and adding it to online databases. Suggestions for further study for older scientists include the creation of a sky mirror, studies of nighttime cloud warming, and explorations of the effects of urban vs. rural neighborhoods on cloud cover.

With or without the structure of directed lesson plans, families can use their observations of local clouds to support an important citizen science project. Through S’COOL , a NASA project, families can help to support researchers in tracking patterns in weather and atmospheric conditions, allowing for the creation of a deeper understanding of the atmosphere as a whole. Families wishing to participate should collect data on the types of clouds seen, cloud height, thickness of cloud cover, and any other related weather conditions. Additionally, families can use tools offered through the S’COOL website to help themselves better understand the things that they’ve observed. Weather maps, for example, offer citizen scientists the opportunity to explore their data within a daily, weekly, monthly, or even year-long climate context.

Visual learners can gain background in the role of clouds in the water cycle and local weather patterns through Everyday Science for Preschoolers’ Clouds and Weather video. Older learners can benefit from a viewing Water Cycle episode of classic show Bill Nye the Science Guy.

For more cloud-based learning, check out these titles:

[Photo credit (c) Persephone Sarantidis]

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