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        NOVA Cloud Lab Lesson Plan

        In this NOVA Lab, students will learn how scientists use sophisticated instruments and data to study and predict the development of Earth’s powerful storms. Students will learn about cloud types, investigate the progression of Hurricane Sandy, and analyze data to reconstruct the paths of three tropical cyclones. Finally, students will use the NASA Worldview tool to investigate recent conditions for a region. Students predict how storms may develop or change using data, such as water vapor, cloud top temperature and pressure, and land temperature.


        Lesson Summary

        Hurricanes, cyclones, and typhoons threaten thousands of coastal communities each year. In this lab, students will learn how scientists use sophisticated instruments and data to study the development of Earth’s most powerful storms and better predict their impacts. Then, students will be prompted to use the same tools to investigate storms and weather conditions currently developing around the world. The Cloud Lab contains these four activities:

        • Cloud Typing: Students examine a gallery of clouds and determine each cloud type, from cirrus to cumulus to altostratus.
        • Inside a Megastorm: Students track the development of Hurricane Sandy, one of the most devastating and costly storms ever to strike the U.S.
        • Analysis & Reconstruction: Students analyze data collected as three tropical cyclones developed and piece together each storm’s path.
        • Storm Prediction: Students use data and imagery in this viewer from NASA to track and predict the behavior of storms developing right now.

        Time Allotment

        1.5 hours for this lesson

        The amount of time to fully complete this lesson can vary greatly. Depending on how much time you would like to spend on this lesson, you can direct your students to spend more or less time on any of the activities. The Cloud Typing activity is optional; it contains 260 images of clouds (organized into sets of 12 images) for students to identify. For younger or less advanced students, we recommend replacing the Analysis and Reconstruction activity with the Cloud Typing activity.

        Learning Objectives

        Content Objectives

        • Students will be able to describe how clouds form and how they impact weather.
        • Students will be able to explain the development of severe storms.

        Process Objectives

        • Students will be able to make predictions about the path of storms using satellite data.


        • Web and mobile browsers that support HTML5
        • To save work while using the Cloud Lab, you will need a Google, Facebook, or PBS account
        • Cloud Lab Lesson Plan Worksheet

        Learning Activities

        This lesson plan was modified from the 5-E format, a lesson plan model for guided inquiry in science classrooms.

        Engage (5 min) - Introduction activity that poses a question or calls upon prior knowledge

        • Instruct students to watch the introductory video on the Cloud Lab homepage. Discuss the following question as a class.
          • What conditions do you think are necessary to produce severe storms like hurricanes?

        Explore (15 min) - Students explore a hypothesis and collect data

        • Instruct students to complete the “Inside a Megastorm” activity.
        • ACTIVITY
          • Using the worksheet, students should collect data at each stage of Hurricane Sandy's development. The data they collect should pertain to characteristics such as sea surface temperature, cloud temperature and height, and air pressure. For example, at Stage 1, students should cite how there was a cluster of thunderstorms centered around a low-pressure area.

        Explain (25 min) - Direct instruction and content delivery

        • Instruct students to watch the Cloud Lab videos (located in the Video Library on the homepage of the Cloud Lab) and answer the questions on the worksheet.

        Elaborate (20 min) - Apply content knowledge and skills to problem (guided practice)

        • ACTIVITY
          • Instruct students to complete the three challenges of the “Analysis & Reconstruction” activity. Students complete this activity by analyzing data about the development of three tropical cyclones.
          • Students must reconstruct the path of each storm by placing the missing stages in the correct place based on the descriptions of the surrounding stages.

        Evaluate (25 min) - Formal assessment (independent practice)

        • ACTIVITY
          • Instruct students to open the Storm Prediction tool and to examine their part of the world. For example, students in Boston might examine the North American continent.
          • Instruct students to examine the past week of activity for that region and to make observations of the changes they notice in water vapor, cloud top temperature, cloud top pressure, land surface temperature, and precipitation estimates by using the overlays.
          • Next, students should make a prediction of what they believe will occur over the course of the next three days based on those observations.
          • After four days, have students examine the data in the Storm Prediction tool to evaluate the accuracy of their predictions.


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