New Living Body, Channel 4, Thursdays, 9.45-10.05am. Night-time block transmission, 4.00-5.40am, Teachers' guide Pounds 4.95. ETC, PO Box 100, Warwick CV34 6TZ.
The New Living Body, as the title suggests, is a replacement for the previous popular Channel 4 series The Living Body, and like its predecessor is targeted at key stage 4 pupils. There are 10 20-minute programmes in the series ranging from "Bones and Joints" to "Reproduction". The programme makers have not sought to give comprehensive coverage to all of the topics covered in the national curriculum documents, but they have tried to present them in ways that would not be easily achievable in a school, mainly by using state-of-the-art technological devices.
For example, in "Bones and Joints", the explosive movements of American football and the more graceful and fluid ones of ballet are examined with the aid of superb computer graphics, showing how both kinds of activity can cause damage to the body.
The three-dimensional effect of the graphics has a tremendous impact, stripping away the layers to reveal the structural complexity of joints such as the knee, showing the ligaments and bone connections from every conceivable angle. This image is then linked to another obtained by the exploration of the knee with a fibre-optic camera, which further clarifies the workings of a joint.
How technology helps in the diagnosis of the body's problems is illustrated further by "magnetic resonance imaging". Here the commentary and visuals link together the traditional x-ray with this magnetically-defined image and show how the different pictures are interpreted. It is fascinating stuff and will be spell-binding to pupils and teachers alike.
The technology is exploited further in the programme on "Muscles". Here thermographic cameras are used to show how the temperature of the leg muscles change in activity not something easily demonstrated in a school lab. And body builders lifting weights demonstrate the difference between muscles in a relaxed and contracted state, with their bulging biceps and triceps showing how the muscles' dimensions change when they are at work.
The content of this programme in places can be demanding and it could be beyond the grasp of many doing GCSE, and as such teachers might want to preview programmes before use. Another reason for previewing the programmes, as suggested by the teachers' guide, is that some include gruesome or uncomfortable sequences.
The guide itself has a clearly presented and useful double-page spread for each programme; there is a content summary, list of learning outcomes, background information, ideas for introducing the programme, for consolidation and for follow-up work. A section on cross-curricular links shows how the programmes could be used in personal and social education and PE.
All in all an interesting, stimulating and provocative set of programmes.