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Learning Labs

A Learning Lab is a 2-hour experience that includes an exhibit exploration and classroom activity. The 45-minute classroom activity incorporates hands-on activities and has been specifically designed for different grade bands. During the field trip, students will also go on a 45-minute exploration of the NSF NCAR Mesa Lab that aligns with the subjects from the selected Learning Lab. This provides an opportunity for more in-depth learning about your topic. Our labs are designed for PreK-12th grades and are aligned to Next Generation Science Standards. Field trips to the NSF NCAR Mesa Lab are entirely free, but transportation and lunch are not included.

Summer Learning Labs:

  • Engineering for Change: An Extreme Weather Design Challenge (Grades PreK-12): Calling all engineers, inventors, designers, and crafters! Extreme weather presents many challenges as well as exciting opportunities for innovation to help our communities stay safe. Engineers of all ages will get crafty and curious while building structures to protect people from extreme weather and exploring outside to learn how researchers at the U.S. NSF National Center for Atmospheric Research rely on creativity and teamwork to explore our amazing planet.
  • Our Powerful Planet (Grades PreK-12): With raging wildfires, spinning storms, towering trees, and a blazing Sun, our planet is a powerful place! Become an Earth explorer at the U.S. NSF National Center for Atmospheric Research while discovering our amazing planet outside on our Weather Trail and in our Ozone Garden. Investigate the impacts of wildfires, air quality, and our Sun on people, plants, and animals. Then get up hands-on with our interactive exhibits to investigate more about weather, climate, and our Sun.

Note: A significant portion of summer learning labs takes place outside, so students will need to dress appropriately and wear attire for walking on a rough dirt trail. If the weather is severe enough to restrict us from going outside, we will switch the outdoor Weather Trail experience to an indoor exhibit experience. Please email the School and Public Programs team to discuss accessibility accommodations for your group.

School Year Learning Labs:

  • Cloud Detectives (Grades PreK-K):🌲 Send your students’ curious minds soaring as they explore the science of clouds. Through song, story, art, and play, students will learn about the many different types of clouds. Students will touch a cloud, learn about the power of the Sun, and discover how much a cloud weighs. 
  • Air: A Piece of the Weather Puzzle (Grades 1-3): Did you know a typical cumulonimbus cloud can weigh as much as 253 blue whales? How does it stay up in the sky?! Explore how the sun affects our Earth’s weather with an interactive experiment comparing hot and cold air. Transform your students into cloud detectives as we explore this cloudy mystery together and learn how air behaves when it changes temperature.
  • Weather Trail Discovery (Grades 2-3):🌲 Calling all weather explorers! Students embark upon an outdoor science scavenger hunt to see firsthand how weather impacts our surroundings. While walking on the Walter Orr Roberts Weather Trail, we’ll use scientific instruments to look for and learn about the weather wonders in NSF NCAR’s backyard. 
    • Note: This program is not recommended for groups with wheelchairs because we cannot adapt the route on the Walter Orr Roberts Weather Trail.
  • Sky Sleuths: Inside Weather Data (Grades 3-5):🌲 Put your detective hats on as we discover what clues scientists use to create weather forecasts. We’ll explore how meteorologists gather weather data from around the world and use supercomputers and models to create the forecasts that help us plan our lives and stay safe. Your meteorologists-in-training will team up to gather real weather data outside the NSF NCAR classroom, and then graph and analyze their atmospheric data. 
  • Simply Shocking (Grades 3-5): Nature provides a spectacular show when lightning strikes. Students explore this hair-raising phenomenon to discover what lightning is and how it forms. While there are many kinds of lightning, there are simple ways we can stay safe from this stunning weather hazard. 
  • Climate Heroes: My Place in the Earth System (Grades 3-5):🌲 Oceans, ice sheets, forests, mountains, clouds, and more are all a part of our Earth systems. They cover our beautiful planet in an amazing, complex system that is rapidly changing with our warming planet. Turn your students into climate superheroes-in-training as they learn the basics of the science of climate change, how our Earth systems are all connected, and what actions we can all take together to be part of the solution. 
  • What's Up with Climate Change? Earth's Changing Weather, Over Time (Grades 6-8): Explore the basics of climate change, including greenhouse gases and their contribution to rising global temperatures. Students become climate scientists for a day, analyzing climate data proxies like tree rings and ice cores, and exploring some of the impacts of climate change in Colorado.
  • Engineering for Climate Change: An Extreme Weather Design Challenge (Grades 6-12): Calling all engineers, inventors, and designers! The extreme weather expected with our changing climate presents many challenges, which can also be considered opportunities for innovation to help our communities stay safe. Your class of budding engineers will get crafty and curious while building structures to protect people from extreme weather and learn how researchers at NSF NCAR rely on creativity and teamwork to explore our amazing planet.
  • For grades 9-12, we welcome individualized program requests. Email our School and Public Programs team at to talk about setting up a field trip for this age group.

Programs with 🌲 after the title will include time outside, and field trips attendees should dress accordingly and prepare to walk on a dirt trail.

Learning Lab Visual Schedules

Help your students get prepared for each step of the field trip and gain confidence in independence by using our Visual Schedules. This resource is specifically developed for students with ASD or related disabilities, but can be beneficial for anyone! 

Additional Visual Schedules coming soon. 

Important Details Before You Book:

  • We tend to book up to 5 months out and field trips are scheduled on a first-come, first-served basis.
  • School year field trip programs run from 10:00 am - 12:00 pm MT on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. Summer field trips run on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 10:00 am - 12:00 pm MT.
  • Field trip group sizes are limited to 15*-55 students. If your group is larger than 55, you will be split into programs across multiple days.
  • We will need to know about people with disabilities or who need accommodation in your group so we can serve everyone best in their learning experience.
  • Make plans for lunch.
  • Arrange your transportation to the NSF NCAR Mesa Lab, located at 1850 Table Mesa Drive, Boulder, CO 80305.

*Please note our group size minimum has increased to at least 15 students. 

Making Your Reservation:

We are now accepting reservations for Summer 2024 and Fall 2024. 

If you are interested in booking a Summer 2024 or Fall 2024 field trip, please fill out our In-Person Program Request Form

To stay in the loop with reservation and program announcements, sign up for our monthly K-12 newsletter. Each April, field trip reservations open for the upcoming Fall semester. Each August, field trip reservations open for the following Spring semester.

Our team will be in touch about the program within ten (10) business days. If you have any questions or need to make adjustments to a submitted request, please email the School and Public Programs team


To cancel a confirmed field trip, please email us at least two weeks in advance. If a last-minute cancellation is necessary, please email us or call 303.497.2401 as soon as possible.


Next step: Prepare for a Field Trip