Cloud Types and Display Stands

by devansic, published

Cloud Types and Display Stands by devansic Aug 2, 2016

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This project provides models for nine different kinds of cloud formation. They are designed to fit on the end of a standard pencil which can then sit in a base that has the name of the cloud formation. The base has space behind for flash cards, pictures of clouds, or other study aids to assist in learning the cloud types.

This is a great #ScienceProject and can be used to create a great display or work area for teachers who like to use #LearningStations.

Print Settings

Printer Brand:



MakerBot Replicator (5th Generation)






Each cloud formation takes about 1/2 to 1 1/2 hours to print on standard settings. They are mostly able to be printed on the #MakerBot Mini - if you use translucent filament and play with the type of infill, you can get some fun, characteristic results. For the nimbo cloud models, use a gray filament to reinforce their rainy nature!

The bases are big, requiring more of a footprint than the Replicator Mini can provide, and take about 6 hours to print.


The cloud models were designed to fit on top of a standard pencil. After collecting a few abandoned pencils as you walk through the hallways or sidewalks of your school, I’m sure you’ll have a variety of lengths to help you create the necessary altitude differences for the clouds.

How I Designed This

The clouds were designed with hand drawings which were then converted into SVG files and turned into 3D Models using #TinkerCAD. I offer instructions on that process at the end of the documentation.

The bases were modeled in #OnShape. If you wish to access that file and modify the bases or make bases for more cloud types, the project can be accessed here.


Overview and Background

Cloud types differ not only in appearance, but in water content, altitude, and as signals for future weather conditions. Learning about the clouds helps students understand the atmosphere and the interconnectedness between the systems of the planet.


After using this project, students will be able to identify cloud types based on characteristics, appearance, and altitude.


* 3-ESS2-1 Earth's Systems
Represent data in tables and graphical displays to describe typical weather conditions expected during a particular season.

  • 5-PS1-1 Matter and Its Interactions
    Develop a model to describe that matter is made of particles too small to be seen.

  • 5-ESS2-1 Earth's Systems
    Develop a model using an example to describe ways the geosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and/or atmosphere interact.

  • 5-ESS2-2 Earth's Systems
    Describe and graph the amounts and percentages of water and fresh water in various reservoirs to provide evidence about the distribution of water on Earth.

  • MS-LS2-3 Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics
    Develop a model to describe the cycling of matter and flow of energy among living and nonliving parts of an ecosystem.

  • MS-ESS2-4 Earth's Systems
    Develop a model to describe the cycling of water through Earth's systems driven by energy from the sun and the force of gravity.

  • MS-ESS2-5 Earth's Systems
    Collect data to provide evidence for how the motions and complex interactions of air masses results in changes in weather conditions.

Lesson Plan and Activity

The cloud models and bases can be used as a learning station that students will cycle through over a series of days. Starting the activities, students can be given puzzles and worksheets that encourage them to explore the models on their own, gathering information and completing their worksheets. Scaffolding activities can have them matching clouds with the bases where the pencils are attached, or sorting the note cards into the bases with the clouds. Summative activities can include having the models, pencils, and bases disassembled and asking the students to work together, replacing the components in the correct positions.

To build a selection of flash cards to keep in the bases, NOVA, NASA, and abcteach offer some great resources.

For a lesson plan that can be used for ESL students, click here. If you want to get hands on, and let kids make cotton ball cloud formations, this is a good lesson plan. You can enrich your presentations with demonstrations, videos, or a ten day unit revolving around “The Cloud Book”.

How to import SVG: If you'd rather make your own clouds

If you want to involve your students in 3D printing their own clouds for this project, it's pretty simple to go from a drawing to a pencil topper. First, have your students draw and color their clouds. They need to be colored in pretty darkly to show up as solid. Your more crafty kids might leave some blank spots for detail, like in the cumulonimbus cloud in this set.

Convert the Drawing to an SVG

TinkerCAD will allow you to import pictures, but they need to be in SVG format. This website is an easy online converter that gives your file right back to you in SVG format.

Once you've converted your file to SVG, open up TinkerCAD to insert it into your new drawing. Once you have selected the SVG file, it will ask you what side and what thickness (height) you want it to be. They can be pretty large and it will give you a suggested size reduction to make your drawing manageable. If you bring it in too big, don't worry, just delete the one you imported, change the numbers and click "Import" again.

When your drawing inserts in, only the darkly colored parts will show up. If they aren't connected, they will be separate entities. We will have to put in connectors so that they stay together when printed.

First, let's get rid of the extra stuff that came in from the drawing. Go to the "Geometric" menu and grab a rectangle. Drag all the rectangles you need to sit on top of everything you don't want.

Click on the "Hole" box in the dialogue near the top right corner. That will make that rectangle become invisible and take everything it encompasses with it.

Now that all that clutter is hidden, let's add some connectors to the clouds. We will use the same rectangle blocks but resize them into narrow rectangles. Grab the corner white squares to change the shape of the rectangle, then grab the central white square to change the height down to something like 2 mm (just enough to hold the clouds together).

Repeat this process to make enough connectors to keep all your clouds joined together.

Now make the pencil topper

Most pencils are a little less than 8 mm in diameter. Let's add a couple of cylinders to make the collar for the pencil.

First, drag a cylinder over from the "Geometric" menu, then open the "Helpers" menu to get the ruler to help you out. Click on the cylinder to get the ruler to apply to it. With the ruler, you don't need to drag the corners of your object to resize, you can just click on the dimensions you want to change and type in the measurements you want.

In this case, because the pencils are less than 8 mm in diameter and I want to have a 3 mm thick collar, I changed the diameter of the topper to 14 mm.

Then we need to make another cylinder for the pencil to fit into. Select the first cylinder and duplicate it by pressing ctrl-D. Now change the size of that second cylinder to 8 mm and select the "Hole" box on the Inspector window to make it cut into the collar. You need to have a cap on the collar, so change the elevation of the inner cylinder so that it starts at 3 or 4 mm from the work surface. You do this by clicking on the black cone at the top, center of the cylinder and dragging it until the elevation is where you want it to be.

When you are done moving and resizing the cylinders, select them both and click on the "Group" icon at the top of the page. This will lock them together.

Now lay your cylinder group on its side so that the clouds will be facing the right way when they are joined up with them. Drag the collar over to the clouds and place it in a convenient place.

Once the parts are where you want them to be, select them all and click on the "group" icon again to join them up.

When you "Group" the collar and the SVG and all the "hole" boxes, everything you don't want disappears and everything you want join together to make one happy, printable part. Now it's time to export the model so you can print it. Find the "Design" menu on the upper left and click it.

This is also where you can name your drawing, under "Preferences." Unless you like those way cool names they randomly assign you. Personally, they are entertaining, but not quite descriptive enough for my tastes.

Under the "Design" menu, select "Download for 3D Printing."

Select the format that your printer uses. The MakerBot Desktop imports STL files. The download will start once you click on the desired file format.

The window doesn't disappear until you close it, so check your downloads folder before you keep clicking away and end up with a hundred copies.

That's it! Go print! :)

Rubric and Assessment

Assess your students with quizzes or performance tasks based on recall of the cloud names and characteristics. Or have them perform a puppet show with the clouds, where the characters in the show talk about what clouds they see and how those reflect the weather or anticipated weather changes.



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What a cool idea. I am printing the pencil toppers and gluing them to the nameplate to make a lighter base. I can't seem to open the Cumulus file. Any ideas?