Investigating the Human Body

Article excerpt

What could be more interesting or more important to students than learning about their own bodies and how they work? Here are seven programs that examine the complex systems that enable us to move, transform food into energy, fight off disease, and much more.

A number of software publishers have recently tackled the task of teaching about human anatomy and physiology. Their varied approaches reflect a range of viewpoints on such aspects as how information, should be organized and presented, how much detail should be included, and in what manner each topic, including the sensitive issue of human reproduction, should be addressed.

In this roundup we look at a variety of the newer software products that focus on the human body. Some have been designed specifically for school use, while others are intended more for the home but have significant carry-over to the classroom.

Here, arranged by age, are the most successful titles we've seen.

Body Park (Virtual Entertainment)

Body Park is the only program looked at here that specifically targets primary-grade students. The setting is an amusement park in the shape of a human body, which children navigate to explore the "attractions," or body systems. At one stop, they may learn about the heart and circulation, at another, the skeleton, muscles, or brain. Each attraction offers a selection of activities and items to explore through a variety of media. Kids learn through rap songs, narrated instruction, simple animations, and more. They can also get tips on good health and nutrition habits, and perform a simple experiment at each stop.

Although the range of activities offers something for every child (including those with short attention spans), some of the vocabulary and concepts may be difficult for the younger users, while those in the upper elementary grades may find the program a bit unexciting. The title also offers a "family" attraction with a limited view of how characteristics are passed to offspring, but no information on sex organs or reproduction.

A school version, scheduled for release soon, will include a teacher's manual and reproducible activity sheets.

The Magic School Bus Explores the Human Body (Microsoft)

The Magic School Bus Explores the Human Body is a beautifully presented, exploratory multimedia title, the first in a series based on the printed science books so loved by elementary students. In this title, youngsters navigate the bus through a classmate's body, visiting the mouth, brain, heart, lungs, stomach, and other organs (excluding the reproductive and endocrine systems), with the help of their teacher, Ms. Frizzle. At each stop, kids can hear brief "reports" from characters on the bus; play simple games where they reassemble skeletons or shoot down microbes; and complete simulated "experiments'" that demonstrate concepts such as the effect of exercise on heart rate and blood flow.

All information is presented via full-screen animated video, using colorful cartoon-like art and a wide assortment of kid-pleasing sounds. Students will enjoy the highly interactive design, which offers them many choices at each turn, although they may find themselves confused about where they are in the human body as they navigate.

The Magic School Bus Explores the Human Body will teach children quite a bit about human physiology, but it is not a research tool. Information is presented in bits and pieces, without broad organizing principles, and there is no search mechanism for specific data.

The program would be better suited for classroom use if it included options for saving multiple games and turning off the sound completely. But the accompanying activity cards offer lots of good ideas for teachers.

BodyScope (MECC)

Bodyscope is an easy-to-use exploration of basic human physiology that emphasizes the body's structure rather than its workings. A floppy-based title, it does not offer the cutting-edge multimedia found in such programs as School Bus, but it does a good job of providing an interesting selection of interactive and involving activities, and a range of management options that make it a good bet for the classroom. …