Cloud Lab Guide for Educators

For discussion questions and lesson plans, go to the Cloud Lab collection on PBS LearningMedia.

From homework enrichment to science fair projects to a week-long lesson module, the individual Cloud Lab components gives you a range of options for addressing the topics of weather, climate, Earth systems, and scientific modeling with your middle school or high school students. Below are details of the Lab components and some strategies to get you started.   

Reconstructing a Storm

This activity gives you direct access to the types of data, imagery, and tools scientists use to investigate Earth's most powerful storms. Students can learn how to track the development of storms and better predict their impacts by conducting their own investigations about storms that are developing right now! This activity includes the following three components:

  • Inside a Megastorm takes students on a data-driven tour of Hurricane Sandy from the scientists’ point of view. Along the way, students learn to analyze and interpret authentic data and explore models of Earth’s atmosphere and weather systems.
  • In Analysis and Reconstruction, students put their data and observation skills to the test by sifting through the evidence created by real storms (you have three to choose from) and piecing the data together to reconstruct a storm's path.
  • The Open Investigation section gives students access to the data and tools to begin their own explorations. We get them started with guided questions about five specific storms, but then students can begin to use their new skills and access to Earth science data to ask questions, plan and carry out investigations, examine the evidence, and communicate their findings—all essential scientific practices in the Next Generation Science Standards.

To support your students in the research activity, you might use some of these strategies:

  • Ask students before they begin about their experience with clouds, weather, and severe storms. Some might have experienced a hurricane or had a family member affected by one. It is good to start by activating their prior knowledge and experience with this topic.
  • Is there a storm brewing? The real-time weather data in the Open Investigation section will continually update, so check back in whenever there is a hurricane forming to monitor developments, explore the data, and log your predictions.
  • Ask students how familiar they are with weather maps or watching weather forecasts on TV or the Internet. Satellite data of the Earth’s atmosphere, like the kind a meteorologist uses in a weather report, will be explored in this Lab. For more on the satellites that keep their eyes on Earth, visit NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service.

Cloud Typing

This section contains a cloud gallery with 260 beautiful images of a range of 10 cloud types, from cirrus to cumulus to altostratus. Students are challenged to analyze the cloud images and classify each cloud type they observe in the image. A visual and descriptive key is available to help students learn about each cloud type and assist them in their identification. Listed below are some ideas for how you can use the gallery:

  • As an educator, you can select and save in your "Favorites" section your own collection of cloud images that are aligned with your presentations or lesson plans.
  • Use the images in the cloud gallery for formative assessment or to deliver a visual cloud quiz to your students.
  • Encourage students to contribute their own images to the NOVA Labs Cloud Group on Flickr.


The Cloud Lab includes five short videos, collected into three modules, that cover the basics of clouds and their relationship to weather, severe storms, and climate. In addition to addressing the fundamental content for these topics, videos address why these topics matter to students and society. Strategies for using the Cloud Lab videos include:

  • Work through one or more of the video modules with your class. Watch the videos and have students answer the questions. Students can record their answers in a customized printable Lab Report that you can collect and use for assessment purposes.
  • Have students make concept maps for clouds, atmosphere, weather, and climate based on the topics and ideas addressed in the videos.
  • Embed a single video from the Lab into an existing lesson plan.

In addition to their place in the context of the Cloud Lab, you can find all of the Cloud Lab videos—and videos for all NOVA Labs—here.

The Scientists

The Cloud Lab will periodically have scientists and engineers available to engage with you online and to answer students’ questions about topics related to weather and climate. By interacting with professionals who are active in this field, students will have the chance to connect with careers in science and engineering related to meteorology. Check the calendar of events on the NOVA Labs Facebook Page to see who is available—and then ask away!

  • Work with your class to compile a list of questions to ask the featured scientist. Submit your questions online as a class.
  • Ask students to discuss the types of skills they might need to become an atmospheric scientist.
  • Would you like to invite a meteorologist to visit your classroom? Find a local weather person through our partnership with the AMS.

The Cloud Lab Standards Alignment

To see how various parts of the Cloud Lab can be used to meet your course objectives, download the standards alignment document below: 

Cloud Lab Standards Alignment (62.4 KB)

Related Resources

Below are more resources from NOVA and other organizations to enhance your lessons about energy.

NOVA Programs:

  • NOVA’s Earth from Space—Detailed satellite images reveal the web of connections that sustain life on Earth.
  • Inside the Megastorm—Watch as Hurricane Sandy unfolds and explore what made it so much more devastating than other hurricanes.
  • Storm That Drowned a City—Experts and eyewitnesses reconstruct the devastating floods that Hurricane Katrina unleashed on New Orleans.

More from NOVA:

  • Earth System Science Education Collection—This collection highlights important Earth processes normally invisible to the human eye. The standards-based media resources below expose the intricate web of forces that sustain life on Earth, allowing educators to explore the astonishing beauty and complexity of our dynamic planet with their students.
  • Stronger Hurricanes—Over the past half century the average strength and duration of hurricanes in the tropical regions has doubled. Will this sobering trend continue?
  • Anatomy of Katrina—Track the hurricane from its birth in the open ocean through its catastrophic encounter with the Gulf Coast.

External Resources:

  • S’COOL for Teachers—The S'COOL Project involves students (ages 5–20+) in real science; they make and report ground truth observations of clouds to assist in the validation of NASA's CERES satellite instruments. This webpage has free materials, a downloadable presentation, standards alignment, and more to help you bring the S’COOL Project to your students.
  • NOAA Education Resources: Hurricanes—Linked resources include multimedia, lessons and activities, real-world data, background information, and career profiles that provide teachers with a toolkit of materials and activities suitable for integration into a variety of educational settings.
  • MY NASA DATA for Teachers—MY NASA DATA is an online avenue whereby educators can bring NASA data into their classroom and provide students with real-world science experiences.  Their collection of lesson plans include: Hurricanes as Heat EnginesA Comparison of Cloud Coverage Over Africa, and Seasonal Cloud Cover Variations.
  • GLOBE Teacher’s Guide—The Global Learning and Observation to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) program is a worldwide hands-on, primary and secondary school-based science and education program. This guide provides key information and supports implementation of the GLOBE Program with your students.