Renton middle schoolers sail with science expedition

November 3, 2009

Renton middle schoolers sail with science expedition

For some Renton seventh‐graders, a sailing expedition on Puget Sound was their first trip outside the area.

“They did a lot of firsts during this trip,” said Dimmitt science teacher Michelle Opiniano.

About 19 Dimmitt Middle School students took a three‐day science expedition in October, many sailing for the first time.

“It was quite an amazing opportunity for a lot of the students,” she said.

The middle schoolers took turns camping on Vashon Island and sleeping on the Salish Sea Expedition’s 61‐foot ship, Carlyn.

“That was my weeding out process, letting them know they didn’t have showers,” Opiniano said.

The group departed from Des Moines and sailed around the southern end of Vashon Island for most of the three‐day trip.

Salish’s program was appealing, because it walked students through the scientific process, Opiniano said.

Before the trip, the students hypothesized that more phytoplankton grew at 1 meter than at 3 meters underwater.

The students then gathered samples from the Sound with the help of the Salish crew, who taught them how to use a plankton‐capturing device.

“Even if they know their hypothesis will be refuted, they let them (students) go with it,” Opiniano said.

Students then tested the samples of water using equipment on the ship. They found there were about equal amounts at the different depths, she said.

Though the students proved their hypothesis wrong, they still worked on a final presentation after their return.

“It encourages students to believe in themselves that they can do the learning,” Opiniano said. “A lot of kids don’t try, because they’re afraid of failure.”

Though the trip had a heavy emphasis on academia, the Salish crew worked heavily on increasing the student’s world perspective.

“There is more to life than what they see in everyday life,” Opiniano said.

To build confidence, the crew found what students were good at, whether it be sailing, cooking or experimenting, and they put them to work.

“Even though you’re not the sharpest tool in the shed, it doesn’t matter, because everyone has something they become an expert at,” Opiniano said.

They also learned to sail, some even taking a turn at the wheel.

No cell phones or electronics were allowed on the ship, Opiniano said. “It’s kind of refreshing.”

However, parents and teachers had the opportunity to follow the progress of the students online.

Most of the trip was paid for by a scholarship from Salish and student donations, though the group had about $800 left to raise after returning. Participating students were a part of an after‐school ecology club, though teachers drew in kids at all knowledge levels.

“It’s definitely not what you’d think of as a science club,” Opiniano said.

Gracey, Celeste. “Renton middle schoolers sail with science expedition,” Renton Reporter, November , 2009.

Media Inquiries

For Media Inquiries please contact at (360) 385-3628 or