SK students working on science in the field

Eleven-year-old Mickayla Park answers quesitons for Jeremy “Monkeyman” Dahl. - Aaron Burkhalter/Staff Photo
Eleven-year-old Mickayla Park answers quesitons for Jeremy “Monkeyman” Dahl.
— image credit: Aaron Burkhalter/Staff Photo

Recycling specialist, geologist and monkey man teaching in the woods.

Clustered together on a dirt road off of Old Clifton Road, Jeremy Dahl gives his marching orders to the fifth- and sixth-graders from Sunnyslope Elementary.

Two students hold hanging thermometers, preparing to measure the temperature inside and at the edge of the forest, but first they have to test the thermometers in a central location to test accuracy.

Dahl tells the students, a few times, to pull out their notebooks and mark the time and what they did.

Sensing they’re not paying attention, he asks for the response he taught them before they hiked out.

“Yes, Monkeyman!” the seven students shout back.

Sunnyslope Librarian Barbara Haddad brought this group to the wooded area owned by the South Kitsap School District — and intended for a new high school eventually — to give the students a hands-on lesson in science and a sense of their forested surroundings.

“What we’re trying to do is reinforce the science and math they’re already doing,” she said, and rather than work out of a book, she brings the students to the woods and pairs them with scientists. “When you can get real scientists involved ... it has a huge impact.”

And so she brought Dahl to South Kitsap from his home in Atlanta, Ga., rallied support from local parents and Kitsap County Public Works, and set out on this week-long lesson in field study, data collection and forest conservation.

Their week started with a teleconference between South Kitsap’s participating schools, Sunnyslope and and Sidney-Glen Elementary.

The teleconferences have become a staple of Haddad’s work at Sunnyslope, where she has connected students with the San Diego Zoo and scientists in Kentucky through a projection screen and digital camera.

The students talked about scientific method, hypotheses and data collection before hitting the field.

Out in the woods, the students circulated through the three scientist volunteers — including Dahl, geology specialist Shauna Abbenhaus and Kitsap County Recycling Coordinator Dave Peters — to test their hypotheses about the area’s climate and geological fingerprint.

Dahl helped the students test temperatures inside and outside the forest. The students offered different predictions about the results. Some thought the inside of the forest would be cooler than the outside because it lacked sunlight, and some thought the inside would be warmer because it was insulated with trees.

Rather than Dahl telling them the answer, or looking it up in a book, students found out for themselves with pen, paper and thermometer in hand.

“It’s very exciting for the kids,” Dahl said. “It means they realize these abstract notions in very real ways.”

The students agree.

“You get to see actually how you do the experiments,” 11-year-old Mickayla Park said.

During their lunch break they let off a lot of energy hanging out at the edge of the forest, but their morning lessons showed through as they chattered about the rocks and the forest.

“It’s better than sitting in a classroom,” 11-year-old Erisah Cruz said.

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