- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 15, 2002

I always found the science of living organisms entertaining in a 60-minute class in high school, but I doubt most students would agree. The concepts related to the growth, structures, functions and distribution of life, which almost always led to the dissection of a frog, left many of my peers dozing or repulsed.

A biology teacher from Colorado would like to change that. He has taken his love for the inner workings of creatures, cartooning and the World Wide Web and developed an interactive site to visually stimulate children about the exciting world of biology.

Biology in Motion

Site address: www.biologyinmotion.com

Creator:

Leif Saul, a free-lance Web designer and a part-time biology instructor at Front Range Community College in Boulder, Colo., created the site 4 months ago and solely funds it.

Creator quotable:

"I created this site to make creative use of the special features of the Web medium in helping students to learn biology. As a biology teacher who's also an amateur cartoonist, I use cartoons to help explain concepts in class. Biology in Motion is the logical extension of that approach to the Web, but [it] also allows me to use my training in computer programming to add movement, interactivity and simulations of biological processes," Mr. Saul says.

Word from the Webwise:

An opening screen that is simple but pleasing to view greets visitors seeking to unravel the mysteries of life. Mr. Saul leaves no surprises on the innards of his cyber-school, as all available learning modules spew forth down the center of the first page.

This animated laboratory houses 11 rooms for basic biology lessons, using slightly sophisticated design technology and easy-to-understand instructions. The sophomoric humor goblin in me immediately jumped at the chance to explore "Intestinal Gas," found under Cartoon Mini-Lectures.

A click of the text link takes visitors to a page labeled Digestive Track and a silly multimedia-enhanced illustration of a young boy looking queasy. In the illustration, the boy's colon appears at the bottom of the screen, filled with moving purple organisms "having a party" with carbohydrates. One can zoom in on the festivities for an added snicker.

Information accompanying the text explains how gut microbes work in the large intestine. When these microbes get overwhelmed, they mass-produce quickly, leading to the creation of some nasty gases. This type of presentation which exists throughout as large, colorful cartoons is reinforced with no-nonsense text to get the educational point across.

Other modules are a bit deeper in content, and I really enjoyed the Evolution Lab, which uses 20 circular blue life forms with grabbers on their heads to explain natural selection.

A simulation can be activated showing how capturing a food supply will lead to mutations and survival of the fittest. Computer surfers can set various parameters and study the scenarios by using bar graphs and dumping data into a spreadsheet for further analysis.

Students also will appreciate the lively lessons on the role of bile in digestion, the cardiovascular system, cell division and the functions of kidneys.

Finally, Mr. Leif offers an area of relief from the learning in his "About Me" section. Toward the bottom of that page, 16 games he designed can be found. They range from a bubble-popping variation of Tetris to a more complicated Pac-Man using a digging gopher to destroy tumor cells while avoiding macrophages reminiscent of Asteroids.

Ease of use:

This site demands the use of Javascript, the Macromedia Flash (version 5 or later) and Shockwave plug-ins but should be compatible with all modern computers and major browsers.

Don't miss:

The quintessential biology quiz can be found under the Organize-It module. Visitors perform a difficult self-test by selecting a topic such as flower structure or cellular respiration and trying to organize terms into their correct category except that categories are not identified, making it very challenging.

For example, under Animal Cell, students have a list of 20 words that must be placed together properly or put in the trash if not relevant. So the terms chromatin, nuclear envelope and nucleolus would be dragged over nucleus while chloroplast would be dumped.

Family activity:

The site doesn't offer much for the clan to do away from the computer, other than print out some of the silly characters to remind the struggling student in the family that biology can be fun.

Cyber-sitter synopsis:

Parents should be aware that Mr. Leif's game area will take students to places that occasionally feature banner ads for slightly risque material, such as Victoria's Secret promotions. However, the young scientists in the family will be enamored with the site's presentations and immediately will crave more.

Overall grade: A

Remember: The information on the Internet is constantly changing. Please verify the advice on the sites before you act to be sure it's accurate and updated. Health sites, for example, should be discussed with your own physician.

Have a cool site for the family? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message ([email protected]).


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