Invasion of the bodysnatchers

Roger Frost

Body Parts Apron Age group 6-9, Pounds 36 from TTS 'Inside-out' - Body part tunic Age group 6-9, Pounds 69.99 from Commotion

Anatomical torso Pounds 59.99 from Commotion, Age group 6-15

Functioning torso Age group 10-14, Pounds 349 from Hope

The Ultimate Human Body, Age group 10-15 (WindowsApple) Pounds 59 from Dorling Kindersley

Roger Frost finds no shortage of body parts for anatomy lessons.

Right children! Today we're going to the morgue. Now, It might be a bit cold so we'll wrap up well."

Well, I don't think that's been done yet, but any medic will tell you that the most memorable way to learn about the organs of the body is to have some real stomach-churning hands-on. And while years of medical training can't be that wrong, if you are teaching about what the bits inside are, where they go and what they do, you'll find safer material in the catalogues.

The Functioning Torso is safe and amazingly hands-on. It's a life-size model of a boy which opens to reveal his working innards, but in glorious plastic. There are kidneys that drip water into a bladder and a heart that pumps water (when you squeeze it) through some blood vessels. There's a digestive system well it's a bag with a stomach chamber and intestines where you can add food and squeeze it round the system. And there's a brain unit which responds by lighting up when you make a noise, shine a light, touch his hand or put liquid on the boy's lips.

The torso comes with a folder with notes which tell you exactly what to do and what to say and you quickly realise that this comes from the United States.

Teacher Joe Loughran of Gayhurst Primary School in Hackney, London, remarked on how much there is to do: "You can get a lot of interesting things out of this. There's half a term's project here for my Year 6." For example, he used the model to show the effects of smoking: putting a cigarette in its mouth and moving the diaphragm while smoke filled the lungs and tar collected on a tissue. His main concern was that the model needed careful handling, and he'd be reticent to let children loose on something that delicate.

Indeed, the teaching notes included many demonstrations. The model is nevertheless impressive and, considering its price, we felt that middle and secondary schools would get their money's worth.

Commotion's Anatomical Torso is more of a traditional body model and one you can dissect into 11 plastic pieces. At 50cm tall you'd call this a third-size model, and while it's obviously not a match for a full-size model, it is only a tenth of the price. You can pull off the lungs, split the heart in two and remove the brain from inside the head. Once you've cleaned the parts from the carcass, there is plenty of hand- painted detail inside.

For example, you'll see the kidneys, a cut-away of the lungs, the large blood vessels and the diaphragm. Teacher Hugh Vivian found that even the Year 2 children were absorbed by it. "It was interesting to look at the muscles and where the tubes went," he said. "They really liked taking the skull apart and seeing the brain inside."

His Year 2 group also liked the body-parts apron which a child can slip over his head and tie round the waist. Another child can then stick Velcro-backed organs, made of fabric, on its front.

There is a TTS version with heart, lungs and two little green ribbons (ureters) going from the kidneys to the green bladder. Then there's the digestive system with liver, stomach and intestines.

Commotion's tunic has the same organs but they are padded and give a more realistic effect. There are large, stick-on labels to put in place and the intestine unravels entertainingly, helping make another teaching point.

Hugh Vivian found this tunic's embroidered rib cage an asset. "I'd tell them to feel their ribs, saying it's like a xylophone. They could then see the ribs on the apron and quickly realise we were dealing with what's inside and what's protected by the skeleton." Both aprons were liked, but Commotion's was especially. It is beautifully made, but nearly twice the price.

It's interesting to see how computers are getting in on the body act. For example, Dorling Kindersley's Ultimate Human Body CD-Rom shows a realistic body model you can remove parts from, which even the younger ones appreciate. But what this really adds is the opportunity for children to see things, like the heart and lungs working and have things explained to them. Over and over, if they wish. The level here is fairly high, which puts this absorbing resource in the extension materials box.

And if you want to extend things further, well there is always your local morgue. "OK children, don't start screaming till I say GO."

TTS, Technology Teaching Systems, Unit 4, Park Road, Holmewood, Chesterfield S42 5UY. Tel: 01246 850085

Hope Education, Orb Mill, Huddersfield Road, Oldham, Lancs OL4 2ST Tel: 0161 633 6611

Commotion, Unit 11, Tannery Road, Tonbridge, Kent, TN9 1RF Tel: 01732 773399

Dorling Kindersley, 9 Henrietta Street, London WC2E 8PS Tel: 0171 836 5411

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