The brain must make sense of external stimuli to generate relevant behavior. We used a combination of in vivo approaches to investigate how the cerebellum processes sensory-related information. We found that the inferior olive encodes contexts of sensory-associated external cues in a graded manner, apparent in the presynaptic activity of their axonal projections (climbing fibers) in the cerebellar cortex. Individual climbing fibers were broadly responsive to different sensory modalities but relayed sensory-related information to the cortex in a lobule-dependent manner. Purkinje cell dendrites faithfully transformed this climbing fiber activity into dendrite-wide Ca2+ signals without a direct contribution from the mossy fiber pathway. These results demonstrate that the size of climbing-fiber-evoked Ca2+ signals in Purkinje cell dendrites is largely determined by the firing level of climbing fibers. This coding scheme emphasizes the overwhelming role of the inferior olive in generating salient signals useful for instructing plasticity and learning.