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Eyes on the sky

HRS?eighth-graders take it outside for a science lesson on cloud cover

October 5, 2011
By Jenny Kirk , Marshall Independent

MARSHALL - The eighth-grade students from Holy Redeemer School had their heads in the clouds Tuesday afternoon.

Led by science teacher Kathy Richardson, two sections of eighth-graders got a firsthand look at measuring cloud cover as they headed outdoors. The students have been logging weather conditions for more than a week as they prepared to wrap up the unit on weather.

"We were looking in the big mirror to see how the sky was reflecting in it," Ashley Schotzko said. "Then we had to draw what amount of cloud cover we could see and figure it out using fractions."

Article Photos

Photo by Jenny Kirk
Eighth-grade science teacher Kathy Richardson, center, talks her students through a cloud cover experiment Tuesday at Holy Redeemer School. Pictured with Richardson are Ellie Nordin, left, Natalie Rademacher, Nolan Schaeffer, Joe Sullivan and Thomas Fischer.

Two separate mirrors, with eight individual squares taped off, were used for the experiment.

"It's pretty fun," Schotzko said. "It's good to get out of the classroom and not just read about something."

Monica Timmerman was in the first class, which had a few difficulties.

"The cloud cover changed for everybody," Timmerman said. "We were supposed to hold still while we were drawing."

Richardson admitted that things didn't go quite as planned, noting that the passing clouds varied as much as the eye-level and heights of the students did.

"The first attempt was a successful failure," she said. "Perspective is everything."

With the second group, students recognized that the view changed, even when taking a single step away. Results were more consistent when they all took one step back from the large mirror from roughly the same area.

For most of the quadrants, the cloud coverage was estimated to be at one-fourth. Some students viewed cloud cover at one-eighth and one-half estimates.

"We learned that an 'okta' is a weather term, meaning one-eighth of the sky has cloud cover," Richardson said.

After data was collected, the science students were required to calculate the cloud cover.

"I found out I'm not a good weatherman," Xavier Towne said.

Before using the mirrors, the students "eyeballed" it and gave their best estimate on the percent of cloud cover they saw.

"I guessed 45 percent," Thomas Fischer said.

So did Ellie Nordin. One student thought the cloud cover was at 85 percent. But as the students figured out, the best estimate was determined to be around 27 percent. Natalie Rademacher's guess missed the mark by only 6 percent. Before beginning the experiment, Rademacher estimated that the clouds made up about 33 percent of the sky, making her the closest prediction maker for the day, for which she received a treat.

Although there are many more clouds to study, Richardson's lessons focused on three types - stratus, cumulous and thunderheads. The students determined that the mid-level white puffy clouds Tuesday were altocumulus ones.

After returning to the classroom, Richardson pulled up weather maps from Intellicast and the class discussed pressure centers and wind patterns across the United States.

"The students have been learning about and drawing maps based off Intellicast," she said. "Then they make predictions."

Afterward, the classes took a quiz that required them to identify types of clouds that were selected randomly by Richardson, who used a SMART Board in conjunction with a large bank of colorful pictures off of her computer.

While the students may or may not go on to be meteorologists, the information and experience gained is worthwhile and hopefully, long-lasting. For some, the experience was worth sharing.

"I like teaching my brother (Isaac) and sister (Anna) about things I've learned," Timmerman said. "I taught them how clouds and wind form by low and high pressure. My brother really likes science."

It appears that a lot of students do, although some might just be better at predicting it.



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