Clouds & Rain

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SWBAT explain the process of cloud formation and identify the major types of precipitation

Big Idea

This lesson has students identify and diagram the process of cloud formation as a result of air movement, as well as identifying the six major types of precipitation

Lesson Introduction

This is a combo lesson that addresses, in a very straightforward and direct way, precipitation and the process of cloud formation. Frankly, we don't spend an enormous amount of time on precipitation itself, as it's not something that gets frequently tested, and there is so much prior knowledge that students come in with, so it doesn't get a lot of instructional air time. We do spend more time on the important process of cloud formation, as it's such a major component of weather (Note: Information on the water cycle/condensation processes are addressed later on in the unit - see reflection in this section for more context on the overarching unit plan), and it's generally harder for students to "get." This lesson involves some dissection of scientific texts, some brief notes and diagram drawing/interpretation, and (as usual) a healthy amount of practice!

Materials Needed: (for demo)

  • Bottle or empty soda/juice bottle (2-liters work well)
  • Air Pump
  • Bicycle Air Valve
  • Alcohol, Ethyl

[Note: For embedded comments, checks for understanding (CFUs), and key additional information on transitions and key parts of the lesson not necessarily included in the below narrative, please go to the comments in the following document: 5.8 - Clouds & Rain (Whole Lesson w/comments). Additionally, if you would like all of the resources together in a PDF document, that can be accessed as a complete resource here: 5.8 - Clouds & Rain (Whole Lesson)[PDF]. Finally, students may need their Earth Science Reference Tables [ESRT] for parts of the lesson (a document used widely in the New York State Earth Science Regents course) as well.]

Do Now & Objective(s)

10 minutes

Students come in silently and complete the (attached) Do Now. In this case, the Do Now is a review of material from Unit 3 (Geologic History), Unit 4 (Insolation), and some very recent material the current unit on Meteorology. After time expires (anywhere from 2-4 minutes depending on the type of Do Now and number of questions), we collectively go over the responses (usually involving a series of cold calls and/or volunteers), before I call on a student and ask them to read the objective out loud to start the lesson.

As a general note, the Do Now serves a few purposes:

  1. It serves as a general review of the previous day's material; (again, this is a bit different, as they are reviewing for the quarterly Interim Assessment)
  2. It is a re-activation of student knowledge to get them back into "student mode" and get them thinking about science after transitioning from another content area or alternate class;
  3. as a strategy for reviewing material students have struggled with (for example, using this as a focused review for material that they have struggled with on unit assessments or recent quizzes); and,
  4. It is an efficient and established routine for entering the classroom that is repeated each day with fidelity (I never let students enter the classroom talking. While it may seem potentially severe to have students enter silently each day, this is both a school wide expectation and a key component of my classroom. In many respects, I find that students readily enjoy the focus that starting with a quiet classrooms brings each day).

Cloud Formation (+ Demo)

25 minutes

I start the lesson with a demo, and while I didn't record it, I essentially did everything that this video instructs (it works!). Once the demo "works" and the cloud is formed, the students' curiosity is naturally piqued, which we then use to transition into student predictions (which I take as a whole-class share out) on what actually happened.

After taking a few predictions from students (I'm careful not to give away anything yet), I then pose another question to them, which is based on the image at the top of the Cloud Formation resource. When they see the picture of jet trails, I ask: "How do you think these happen?"

Again, students usually logically connect the "cloud in the bottle" demo to the jet trails, but I'm once again careful to not give away or confirm any answers. We then transition into the reading passage on condensation nuclei on the first page of the resource. This paragraph introduces the necessity of condensation nuclei in cloud formation, but also begins to explain the presence of high-altitude jet trails (and the "cloud in the bottle" too). 

We then transition to the guided notes section on the bottom of the Cloud Formation resource, which we fill out as a class with student responses. I then ask them, at the top of the next page, to independently write out the process of cloud formation. As I've alluded to in previous lessons, I usually enact a "write audit" here, where my directions are such that I ask the students to quite literally read what they wrote out, verbatim (my students have the tendency to orally summarize their writing and "clean it up" for verbal speech - this is an attempt to have them be exceptionally clear in their written language). After 1-2 rounds of reading and feedback, we transition into the connection between precipitation and cloud formation with the paragraph in the middle of the page on the Cloud Formation resource.

After reading and tackling the "Quick Check" question, we finish reading with the final paragraph on precipitation types and the instrumentation used to measure rainwater - a rain gauge. We then turn the page and examine a few different pictures of precipitation, including rain, sleet, snow, hail, and drizzling, and freezing rain, and break down how and why they happen. For example, one thing I like to dive into is the differentiation between sleet and freezing rain ("What's the difference between these two?") or how snow and hail might be different. The students have always come up with some interesting observations!

Then, with the final "Quick Question" on the bottom of the last page of the Cloud Formation resource, I try to reinforce the concept of precipitation a.) not being exceptionally or deeply tested on the Regents exam and b.) much/most/all of it is capable of being connected to students' real life experiences, so it isn't entirely necessary to dwell on it once the overarching process of cloud formation is known. 


20 minutes

The Practice section in this lesson is, like the vast majority of questions found in all of my classwork and homework, is 100% Regents-based. All of the questions come from prior Regents examinations. Likewise, as I try to generally do with all of my lessons, the questions are mostly organized to get increasingly more difficult and increase in complexity, which is why the harder questions tend to come toward the end. In terms of actual content, I feel that the overarching process is not difficult for students to grasp, but some students struggle with the idea of when condensation happens, which is most easily defined as the point at which the dew point and air temperature are equal. 

In terms of student work habits, I tend to sometimes make this decision in the moment, and as a response of what I know about the students and how they're processing the material on, but I'll either ask them to work independently, in partners, or (sometimes) give them the option. Usually, before starting practice, we tend to go over some steps for self-help ("What should you do if you're stuck?"), and I might reference a previously used multiple-choice or free response strategy in order to build their skills while simultaneously learning content (as an example - one popular one we always use - "If you aren't sure what the right answer is, see if you can eliminate some wrong answer choices"). I tend to circulate for compliance and then hone in on specific students while they're doing this. 

After about 10 minutes, we go over their responses. Students who finish early are encouraged to work on the exit ticket (resource below) and double-check their responses. We use a combination of strategies (active voting, cold calling, popsicle sticks, volunteers) to go over the responses, where students correct their work and ask any clarifying questions. 

Exit Ticket & Closing

5 minutes

In the last few minutes of class, I have students complete the daily Exit Ticket. For the sake of time, I have students grade them communally, with a key emphasis on particular questions and items that hit on the key ideas of the lesson (Note: This usually manifests as students self-grading, or having students do a "trade and grade" with their table partners). After students grade their exit tickets, they usually pass them in (so that I can analyze them) and track their exit ticket scores on a unit Exit Ticket Tracker. 

After students take a few seconds to track their scores, we usually wrap up in a similar way. I give students time to pack up their belongings, and I end the class at the objective, which is posted on the whiteboard, and ask students two questions:

  1. Do you feel that you mastered the objective for the day?
  2. Can you reiterate one thing you learned about (in this case, information on where the vertical ray falls on the respective Equinoxes/Solstices, etc.)?

Once I take 2-3 individual responses (sometimes I'll ask for a binary "thumbs up/thumbs down" or something similar), I have students leave once the bell rings.