The question is, is the bean alive?
That's how teacher Bernie Hite's fourth-period biology students at Central Valley High School started class on Monday.
His sophomores were armed with basic knowledge about the process of scientific inquiry and black-eyed beans. "Soup beans," Hite specified. "If I told them I bought these from a seed store, that would be easy. You plant them, they grow, they're alive. So these are soup beans."
Hite's not into making things easy for his students. He describes the hardest part of his job as staying out of the students' way.
"When they ask a lot of questions, I just say 'I don't know,' which is sometimes the truth," Hite said.
Sometimes he sees students do good work; "sometimes their work reeks." No matter. Either way they learn from their work, Hite said.
Teams of three or four students tackled the bean question together on Monday. They'd learned last week about the five characteristics of life: the ability to metabolize or grow; the presence of carbon molecules; a response to stimulus; the ability to reproduce; and the presence of cells.
A trio in one back corner puzzled over their first experiment. They had soaked six beans, wrapped them in a wet paper towel and enclosed the whole thing in a petrie dish.
Now they weren't quite sure what they had - except for wet beans.
Hite stopped by and asked what response they'd observed.
"It stinks," volunteered Kevin Reed, one of the threesome.
"Stink is a response," said Hite, the scientist.
Then he went into question mode: Were they taking precise notes? Did the experimenters have expectations of what might happen? "You didn't set this up blindly, did you?"
Next, Reed and his partners decided to look for evidence of cells.
Hite steered them away from the idea of simply putting the whole bean under a microscope. "You looking to get a slice of it?"
Ah, good idea.
"You want a slice of it wet or dry?"
Hite pressed on: "I'm curious to know how you're going to test if that bean has complex carbon compounds."
Finally, to the relief of the three students, Hite moved on to the next lab table.
"Twenty questions! Thanks for the help," Reed muttered.
But 10 minutes later, after trying out three microscopes and several levels of magnification, these sophomores had success.
Eye to the microscope, Reed said, "Those are definitely cells. Definitely cells. Definitely."
National Merit recognition
West Valley High School has learned that senior Heidi Craig is a National Merit Scholarship semi-finalist. Sarah Harris and Tracy Hansen earned commendations from the scholarship organization.
At East Valley High school, Scott Keith is a semi-finalist; Keith transferred here this fall from Billings, Mont. Commended at East Valley were Catherine Meier and Jennifer Ladieu.
Central Valley High School reports that Andrew Steen is a semi-finalist. Michael Easton is a commended student.
At University High School, four seniors earned commendations: Erik Boyce, Christopher Cordodor, Daniel Kearsley and Matthew Pierce.
Craft fair at WVHS
West Valley High School band supporters should mark Oct. 18 on their calendar.
A craft fair is being held that day in the high school gym to raise money for the band.
The craft fair will include more than 80 craft booths. Hungry shoppers will also find a food court at the high school selling baked potatoes, Mexican food and German sausages.
Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. for shopping for holiday crafts, indulging in dessert goodies and buying a chance to win $500 through a cow pie raffle.
The school's 90-plus band members are raising money to get to national competition in Florida next March. They need $80,000 for the trip and have raised about $20,000 so far, said Jim Loucks, band director.
The band is also looking for corporate sponsors. For more information, call Loucks at 922-5488.
Tech-walk at University Elementary
Students and staffers at University Elementary School raised $2,500 on Sept. 27 with a technology walk-a-thon.
Ten of the school's 20 classrooms currently have computers. Teacher Glen Green said he hopes to buy computers for the rest of the classrooms.
Each classroom will then be connected to the Internet.