Green on the screen
It's a rare thing these days to find CD-Roms produced expressly for schools, which makes Bio-sphere, a new title about the environment, particularly welcome.
Here you'll find a large chunk of relevant science and geography, from every teacher's attainment target, the national curriculum itself. In a single disc there are detailed facts about the effects of humans on the environment and a tour which takes you through global warming, the greenhouse effect, toxic waste, nuclear fallout, oil spills and desertification. You'll find every kind of blight inflicted on planet earth.
Animation shows how effluent over here ends up in lakes over there. You can click on thumbnail pictures and see them large, or click on words like "combustion" to find a definition. The story is depressing, though the mention of cures and conservation just lifts the tone.
Three other major topics follow this tack. "Ecosystems" looks at places such as forests, deserts and grasslands and explains how living organisms interact there. "Food and Energy" looks at energy sources such as wind power and nuclear power as well as food webs and the carbon cycle. Finally, "Planet Earth" includes sections on tides, soil and the water cycle and looks at how these affect life.
This information encourages browsing, and there's a good search facility where you can find say, "eutrophication" and scan the three occurrences to find what you're after. Search for something as broad as "pollution" and there are nearly 50 topics. Or you could take a guided tour complete with commentary. Here the heavily cliched script does its best to get you interested, but the words spoken over different written text is rather distracting.
Unlike some CD-Roms and in true greenness, the text (but not the pictures) can be recycled and used elsewhere. So in project work students can explore, take clippings and synthesise something new. But as with too many CD-Roms you're not offered any ideas to interpret the facts. If students are to learn from this, active research, not just passive browsing, is essential.
Still, as an information source for key stage 4 and more, Bio-sphere delivers well.