Bernard Adams goes on a journey inside the human body in what the BBC claims is its most ambitious biology series yet A landmark science documentary series" is how the BBC describes The Human Body. It's not a very viewer-friendly time for a landmark, but with a little bit of selective viewing and the use of what look like promising backup materials, it could be put to good use in the classroom.
The BBC claims The Human Body is "the most ambitious and in-depth biology series ever undertaken". The aim was to use state-of-the-art photography and medical imaging to reveal "what it is like inside the incredible collection of bones, brains and blood". The broad intention being to cover most of the seven ages of man, although boring middle-age doesn't get too much of a look-in.
The state-of-the-art stuff is, indeed, exciting. Facts that we (men) dimly apprehend - such as exactly what the growing baby does to the mother's other organs - become strikingly clear. And it's hard not to be amazed at the presenter Professor Robert Winston, cumber-somely dressed in a diving-suit surrounded by tiny babies swimming quite happily underwater and demonstrating their post-natal "diving reflex".
Perhaps even more interest-ing is what the owners of the bodies in question feel about them; how Phillippa Watson from Bath reacts to the strange sensations of pregnancy; how some adolescent boys from California feel about the arrival of erections and wet dreams; how the matter-of-fact Beatrice from Salisbury deals with the start of her periods, and what an elderly Arizona couple feel about aging.
All of the series is potentially interesting, relevant or useful to science and biology teachers, but if you haven't time to watch nearly six hours of television, the programmes most likely to have national curriculum material are programmes 2, 3 and 4, which go from conception to adolescence.
Sensibly these programmes will feature strongly in the extensive support which BBC Education is providing for the series. This consists of a video (aimed at key stages 2 and 3), which is due for release in July, a set of teacher's notes and a two-hour compilation which will be shown next March on The Learning Zone.
The video will amplify and clarify sections of the series for a school audience, covering life processes and humans as organisms, in a series of short sequences. These will be topic-based with separate material for each key stage. All the sequences will be indexed with comprehensive menus and a handy clock, so that segments can be found easily with the help of the accompanying teacher's notes which will also suggest follow-up activities. Topics will include cells, the eye, the ear, the skeleton and movement, the heart and circulation, breathing, the human life cycle, growth and reproduction (on this topic the teacher's notes will indicate clearly how explicit the material is and where there are alternatives available).
There will be a new commentary and some extra shooting - showing pupils assembling a three-dimensional body jigsaw, for example. Judy Brooks, the producer of the video, hopes that the extra content, additional graphics and fuller explanation will ensure that the spectacular material from the series is useful to teachers and accessible to their pupils.
'The Human Body', video with teachers' notes, pound;14.99 from BBC Education, PO Box 20, Tonbridge, Kent TN12 6WU. 'The Human Body' by Anthony Smith, pound;19.99 from BBC Books, tel 01624 675137; 'The Human Body: Your Body', CD-Rom, pound;29.99, from BBC Multimedia, tel 01483 204450.