How Can a Cloud Hold Water? – Background


This is another episode is from the project Responsive Teaching in Science, which was funded by the National Science Foundation and focused on cultivating instructional practices of attending and responding to student thinking. The project involved professional development for the participating teachers, and everyone collaborated in developing ideas for responsive curricula.


Chris Myers’ fourth grade class, in an urban west-coast public elementary school, was studying the water cycle. For the project, he and the other fourth-grade teachers opened their unit with a launching question:

“One night it rains. When you arrive at school, you notice that there are puddles in the parking lot. When you go home, the puddles are gone. What happened to the rainwater?”

This was in May, near the end of the school year. In previous science discussions, students had engaged in generating ideas and offering arguments to support and refute their ideas, but they had never really taken charge of the discussion themselves, something Mr. Myers was hoping they would do.


After several days into the unit, clouds had become a central player in students’ conversations and notebooks. Mr. Myers noted this and decided to ask students to expand on their ideas about clouds. Hoping to help get them talking more among themselves, he had them sit in a circle on the floor for conversation.

He first explained what they would be doing after the conversation, and then he called on Alyssa.

“I’m gonna ask you to go back to your seat and draw for me what you think happens in a cloud… I wanna know really clearly how is it that a cloud rains. So let’s start over here with Alyssa who has her hand up. And I want to be able to get out of the middle here.”

The episode opens with Alyssa explaining her idea.