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This photograph shows the build-up of cumulus clouds.
Courtesy of Steve Albers

Watch the Sky

Ever looked up in the sky on a lazy Sunday afternoon and just watched the clouds? Well, here's a project where you can do just that and learn something too! This project works best if you do it with a group...either with your classmates, friends, brothers and sisters, or parents. You will need a pad of paper and pencils or crayons. You can also use a camera if you have one (200 speed film recommended). If you own a pair of binoculars, bring those along too.

First, read about different types of clouds in the Earth's Atmosphere section of the Windows to the Universe website. Then, every day, for the next 3 weeks, go out into an open area where you can see a lot of sky. (DO NOT work on this project if the weather is bad or if you hear or see thunder and lightning. Safety is more important.) Look at the sky in all directions. If you see a cloud, draw a picture or take a photo of it.

Determine what kind of cloud it is and what cloud group it belongs to. How much sky is covered by clouds? Does it look like it's going to rain or snow? Is it foggy? How high up are the clouds? What color are the clouds? Is it windy? How hot or cold is it? What time is it? Write all of this down on your pad of paper. Also write down what the weather was like for that whole day. For fun, see if the cloud looks like someone or something (a cat or your teacher, for example).

Do this every day for the next three weeks. At the end of three weeks, meet with your classmates, friends, brothers and sisters, or parents. Go over all of the photos, drawings, and data that you collected and discuss them with your group. Try to answer the following questions:

  • What clouds are associated with good weather? rain? snow?
  • Of the three weeks, were there more cloudy days, or more clear days? Why do you think that is?
  • Do you think different seasons play a large role with cloud cover? If so, which seasons do you think have more cloud cover and precipitation? Why?
  • Which clouds belonged to the Low Cloud group? High Cloud group? Middle Cloud group? How many of each?

  • If you are doing this with your class, ask your teacher to hang up your photos or drawings. Hang them up according to cloud group. Throughout the rest of the school year, take a look out a classroom window once a day and figure out what type of clouds there are in the sky.

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    Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA