A small collection of reviews - not the latest (see Science Software for schools)

Variation (680k - zip-file) a DOS 'database' program (ie very old) version of 'Variation' from the Wellcome Trust 'Games for Life' CD-ROM. Logs characteristics such as eye colour, hair colour etc. and very easy to use. Use it on open days. May need expert help to install and run - but you could just try it first. Suits ages 10-14. 


Age 15-18

Price £25 single user; £35 network Disc for Windows from Future Skill Software, Free demo on the Internet at

One of those catch phrases about educational software is that it can show things or model ideas that you can’t handle any other way. You might wonder if a population of foxes could eat rabbits until not even a leg of bunny remains – and in the process, eat themselves to extinction. But, while you can find software that simulates science, few titles come as close to ‘Creatures’ in providing a model you can really get to grips with. That it’s not multimedia, nor on CDROM, nor in need of the latest computer will be a selling point to all but the blood thirsty.

‘Creatures’ shows a population of rabbits as blue blobs on the screen. Here too are green blobs or grass - a click then shows the blobs appearing and disappearing as they live and die over many generations. You can stop this, add a few foxes or red blobs and watch them cull the blue rabbits. More than this, a window shows the number of organisms on a rolling time graph.  This nicely shows the expected pattern where more foxes leads to less rabbits, which leads to less foxes and more rabbits. That the pupils have to re-scale the graph as this goes on and on, probably makes a good point about axes. It’s easy to print these graphs, or to copy them to your word processor to

write an enjoyable worksheet. So much for the basics, a suitably brief booklet explains how you can use it to show an idea like ‘pyramids of numbers’. Also by moving sliders to change the sunlight, grass and fox death rate you see how an affect at one end of a food chain affects the other. You can throw a few disasters at the system too – an asteroid dust cloud, a disease in the rabbits and over hunting of foxes are gratifying events to learn from. You can leave it there and quickly deal with a line in the National Curriculum, or go on to brilliantly illustrate say, how an endemic disease in the rabbits can be controlled by introducing more foxes into the system.

But rather than rabbit on, I think science teachers will find here a learning tool that fits a demo, a lesson or whatever time slot they are happy parting with. It may indeed convince a few that at least occasionally, a software designer gets it dead right.

Creatures - population simulator (age 14-17, for PC from Future Skill Software) Price £* 
UPDATE: Future Skill Software have moved to the USA, however we've badgered Dr Herbert Sauro to set up some means to buy their Creatures software. Much better than no supply, the result may be an online purchasing system where you download and use a card. Check the website 

Peppered moths

Age 14-16

Price £50 from Newbyte Software Web

  One title from a great raft of science software that has finally floated in from Australia. It takes shape as a 'game' where pupils take the role of birds and eat white moths from the trees in a forest. Over successive generations, industrial pollution darkens the bark of the trees and results in white moths being eaten, or clicked on, sooner than peppered moths. Likewise, pollution control causes the tree bark to lighten again and becomes bad news for darker moths. The rise, and tragic fall, of each type of moth is recorded as the game progresses.

Drosophila Genetics

  Drosophila Genetics is an experimental simulation where you look at the breeding of the ever-popular fruit fly. You take a male and female - choosing one with the gene for abnormal, curled wings and one with normal or 'wild type' wings. You put them together, hit the breed button and find yourself with a hundred offspring. Rather than do all the work for you, the program makes you count through the new flies. You'll find a 50:50 mix of males to females but perhaps not the same ratio of curled to wild type wings. And here begins a series of puzzles, developed in a work booklet, where students can appreciate the difference between dominant and recessive, genotype and phenotype.

While doing the experiment for real is no bad thing, even with flies escaping into the lab, using the software is a neat follow up to practical work. When the class had their real hands-on, they explore the vagaries of the fruit fly gene map with the simulation. For example, it takes time and generations of breeding to find that some characteristics, such as black bodies and shrunken wings, often go together because the genes are close together. What the software offers is efficient experimentation into sex-linked inheritance, incomplete dominance and so on. Should even that become tedious, it comes with another program that lets you design your own flies.

For PC and all come as site licences. Prices from £50 (Equilibrium) to £150 (Drosophila). From Newbyte Educational Software


The cleverly titled 'Fieldworks' is also a clever tool to use on biology field trips. On the surface, it's a way to record the flora and fauna you find on a transect or belt of land. You add details such as how much Mytilus edulis (a mussel to you and me) or Fucus Serratus (a seaweed, likewise) that you find. You can also record the pH, humidity or other factors that might underlie these findings. You do this on a kind of spreadsheet table where you can pick from lists of the life-forms likely to be found on rocky shores, sand dunes, salt marches. 

What also takes this way beyond a simple spreadsheet are the bar, line and kite graphs that you can now plot with your data. Here too are numerous field data analysis tools that tell about the diversity of the species found. If names like Sorenson, Shannon and Weiner mean stuff to you, and making light work of the maths here is appreciated, then this is the business. Delving within you will find a cavernous program with a mass of background facts and species photos. It's evidently a tour de force that fills the huge chasm in the software available.   Various modules Price £50 each. 

From Interpretive Solutions, Hallsannery Field Centre, Devon, EX39 5HE Tel 01237 471564 Fax 01237 421700 Information:

The Science of Brewing

The final stop as ever is the pub, as enjoyed in a multimedia title called The Science of Brewing. Aimed at school or college, this takes a sober but interesting look at the brewing industry. If you can imagine any aspect of how beers are made, the selection of ingredients, the hops, worts it appears to be here. It tells about the ways that yeast ferments different sugars and about the temperature conditions that affect it. Also included are very many experimental projects that will surely give the laboratory a better whiff than useful. A neat example of good multimedia is a brewery tour where you can mouse-around to see all the equipment. Coming from an enterprising wing of the Technology College at Kingshurst, is a good sign of a title to suit post-16 courses covering biochemistry, biotechnology and food technology. Teachers will find plenty of background material for themselves.

CD-Rom for PC Price £50 approx. Published by B3 Media, PO Box 1017, Cooks Lane, Kingshurst, Birmingham, B37 6NZ, UK. Tel 0121 770 8923 Email:

Human body group review….

  • Bodyworks (age 13+)
  • Dorling Kindersley's 'The Ultimate Human Body' (age 11-15)
  • Microsoft's Magic Bus Explores the Human Body (age 6-11)
  • The Human Body' (age 17+)
  • BodyMapper (age 7-12) and Bodywise (age 10-14)

Why is it that when you give a dictionary to a teenager they go straight to the naughty words? Call it 'puerile dictionary syndrome', but whatever it affects a big chunk of the school population.

As a bit of research, just give a pupil a CD-Rom about the human body and count how few clicks it takes to find the reproductive system. It is amazing - this human curiosity and maybe it's a fair excuse that the 'body topic' is spot on for child-centred learning.

There is such a lot of 'body software' about. So much that I set up the computers, and let a whole science department loose on them. I'd like to thank everyone for their help, and also for the surprise discovery that teachers, as well as pupils share the same 'syndrome' since with no encouragement everyone went straight to the gonads.

But apart from those essential genitals, what makes a great CD-Rom? A virtual reality tour? A 'book' with sounds and film? A cleverly cross referenced encyclopaedia?

We found something of a mix in 'Bodyworks' (age 13+), the long time best seller now in its fifth version. It's an encyclopaedia that shows you all the body systems, labels every part, and speaks those medical tongue-twisters, like 'brachioradialis'. You can look at the organs, and spin the body round to see what's where. You can watch video of a baby being born or make a brilliant journey through the heart. And very usefully, there are lots of diagrams and text which you can drop into your word processor to make a worksheet. It's not all you need but it's good value.

Another title, How Your Body Works (age 14+) is more of a home medical guide. There are mini-lectures about staying healthy, and case studies of people with cataracts, otitis media and so on. It also has some excellent animation showing fertilisation, blood circulating as well as an overview of each body system. But the penalty for this multimedia experience is that there's not enough basic fact for school.

For medical illustration at its best and most detailed see 'ADAM Essentials' (age 16+). Here you can click-away layers of the body and see lymph, muscle, nerves, and blood vessels as you go. And anything you fancy the name of you can click on and hear spoken.

Using animation, it explains how the nerves, the heart and the joints work and for fun there are a few puzzles, hard ones, where you put body pieces together. A first look at 'ADAM' with its 200 body layers and weighty teaching guide will impress but never mind the graphics, the £250 price will force a more careful second look.

So many programs claim to offer 'fun and learning', and Microsoft's Magic Bus Explores the Human Body (age 6-11) isn't far off that. As in the Magic Bus book and TV cartoon, teacher takes the class on a bizarre field trip through the body. In this CD-Rom you can steer your way to places such as the heart, kidneys or brain. There are experiments to do - like drop food in the stomach and see it fizz, and nice touches where white cells attack germs, or comic enzymes attack food and say 'gotcha'.

Fun aside, this gives a good feel for what happens in the body, as you see the bus floating in the blood or stomach's messy liquid. But while children can play and learn for hours at home, I worry that this will eat into precious school time.

As the other end of the fun spectrum is 'The Human Body' (age 17+). It's more an illustrated glossary than anything novel. You hear definitions and descriptions of the body parts and will find what's what, but its diagrams in red, blue and green will puzzle some. Even more puzzling is the language. For example to say that "the vagina is the organ that houses the penis during coitus" is an odd way of seeing things. Medical students, or curious extra terrestrials, might find this useful, but there's more anatomy here than you need for school.

Surprisingly, Anglia's Understanding the Body (age 11-14), is the only title produced for school. This shows in the light reading load and the illustrated 'lessons' on cells, digestion, genetics and so on. That also shows in how easy it is to copy the material for project work. And being full of diagrams without labels, you could use it to create pupil exercises.

While Dorling Kindersley's 'The Ultimate Human Body' (age 11-15) doesn't make pillaging of its material as easy, in this glossy production you click on organs to read about them, and you're given "see also" buttons you'll be tempted to explore. There is lots of good animation too showing how the blood flows or how we breath. That this is even 'interesting' and the coverage isn't as patchy as elsewhere, makes it hard to beat for casual browsing.

But if you haven't got a CD-Rom machine there are still some excellent programs on floppy disc - both BodyMapper (age 7-12) and Bodywise (age 10-14) can hold their own against many CD-Roms. If that says anything, it's that occasionally classroom needs meet teacher and designer and something valuable is born. And that, for once is nothing to do with reproduction and naught bits.

With special thanks to AVP for the loan of software.



Bodyworks 4 - human anatomy leaps to life. (age 13+)

Fancy taking a body for a spin? Well in this, the latest version of the best selling Bodyworks, you can. You can click on arrow controls and send a model of the body twisting left or right, up and over. It may seem gimmicky but this is the easy way-in to a huge atlas of the body. If you want to know about your heart, read how it works, or take a tour through its chambers and see the valves in action, you click your way in.

The detail here will help you put the name of abductor digiti minimi to a muscle in your hand. In other words it would help training doctors and nurses as well as satisfy curiosity and needs at home. And as the text and pictures can be copied - you could find it very handy in school for making worksheets and overheads.

You can hear nearly 2000 technical terms pronounced, watch short movies, as you explore all the main body systems. There are guided tours, quizzes, and facts on health and fitness. There's plenty of competition in body CD-Roms but this is a benchmark. (CD-Rom for PC Windows /Macintosh. Retail price: £39.95 From AVP.

Bodyworks 3 - an adventure in anatomy (age 14+)

Reviewed below (CD-Rom for PC Windows and Macintosh). List price: £49.95 From AVP

The Ultimate Human Body (age 11-16)

A graphical look inside the human body from three angles. In the body machine the answers to questions such as why do you blink and how do you swallow are covered using animation and commentary. In body organs, various parts of the body, heart, lungs, eyes can be removed piece by piece. Finally, the body systems such as the skeletal, muscular and nervous system are described and presented. Processes such as peristalsis, the heart beat and joint movements are usefully shown. This could be located in the library and occasionally used in the classroom. (Dorling Kindersley Windows PC and Apple)

My World - skeletons (age 5-9)

My World is possibly the most widely used schools program, it's even a legend. It's like a sticker book where you arrange pictures on a page except that you use a mouse. More than this - you can use it to tell a story, find hidden things and even make a pizza on screen. The science add-on packs on Minibeasts and Skeletons have nice and not as easy as you think exercises. It's a treat that it now runs on a modest Windows PC, though it needs more grown-up intervention than on the Acorn computer. And as a sign of its success 130 different support packs such as the alphabet, minibeasts and fairy tales are available. (Floppy discs for PC Windows and Acorn RISCOS. Ages 4 plus. Price from £39, support packs from £19. From SEMERC)

Diet analysis (age 14-18)

Diet analysis programs ask you to enter the foods you have eaten over a period of time and then instantly calculate the amount of each nutrient taken in. They will usually draw graphs to match the diet to your personal nutritional requirements. In a sense you then have a model of your diet. And here you might see the result of eating less eggs or eating more fruit - without actually doing so. There are very many such diet programs though rarely with the right balance for school use. However, the ubiquitous Microsoft Encarta encyclopaedia (CD-Rom for PC/Mac - mail order) has a nutrition section which is close to being useful..

Energy requirements - spreadsheet idea (age 14-16)

You can build the spreadsheet on energy and exercise found in Enhancing Science with IT at the UK Virtual Teacher's Centre. In this activity, the pupils record all the exercise they do in a day and the computer totals their energy requirements. They can then play with this model - thinking about how the result would be different at a different time of year or a different person.

Eyewitness Encyclopaedia of Nature (age 11-15)

Has numerous colourful habitat cameos showing their indigenous species. Individual animals can be read about and the food web in the habitat shown. Although the detail here is less than encyclopaedic this disc would not be out of place in a school library for stimulating an interest in animal life. (Dorling Kindersley Windows PC and Apple)

Human Histology, Basic Botany, Through the Microscope

Three dull collections of photographs containing high quality microscope images. These Photo-CD discs can be viewed on screen and used as a focus for discussion. The histology title features 100 microscope sections including all the major tissues. Basic Botany covers a broad range of plant features although there are no notes, labels or descriptions for teachers or pupils. Through the Microscope has a diverse collection of lower magnification images of flour, salt, thumb, which may stimulate interest in microscopy. (Education Interactive Windows PC; Acorn; Apple)

My World - minibeasts (age 5-9)

My World is possibly the most widely used schools program, it's even a legend. It's like a sticker book where you arrange pictures on a page except that you use a mouse. More than this - you can use it to tell a story, find hidden things and even make a pizza on screen. The science add-on packs on Minibeasts and Skeletons have nice and not as easy as you think exercises. It's a treat that it now runs on a modest Windows PC, though it needs more grown-up intervention than on the Acorn computer. And as a sign of its success 130 different support packs such as the alphabet, minibeasts and fairy tales are available. (Floppy discs for PC Windows and Acorn. Price from £39, support packs from £19. From SEMERC)


See also Science Software for schools

It's Biology - Multimedia Textbooks - A level Biology Revision (age 16-18, for PC from Multimedia Textbooks) Multiple choice questions in a series of four CD's produced at Uppingham School. 1. Cytology, DNA, Genetics, Mitosis & Meiosis, Molecules and Respiration; 2. Nutrition, adaptation and Ecology; 3. Biological Systems and processes; 4. Microbiology and biotechnology. Price £* each.




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