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The Digital Frog / ScienceMatrix: Cell Structure and Function Review by Dr. Anne Margaret Wright

Digital Frog International
7377 Calfass Road, RR2
Puslinch, Ontario
Canada NOB 2J0
519-766-1097
http://www.digitalfrog.com/

I admit to being a geek in junior high and high school. This was apparent during dissections in science class, which I found to be really fascinating (although they smelled disgusting)! However, having dead critters cut up and spread all over my dining room table doesn't hold quite as much appeal, as many homeschooling moms would agree. Dissections are such a powerful tool, teaching kids about anatomy in a hands-on way that a textbook cannot rival! The Digital Frog was designed for this very purpose, and in many ways it actually provides a better learning experience than a live dissection. ScienceMatrix: Cell Structure and Function allows students to explore and learn about the amazing world of cells.

Let's start with The Digital Frog. The program is exactly what its name implies: a digital frog dissection. By working through the steps to complete a dissection on the computer, the student learns how and where to make the incisions and also learns about each system of the frog's anatomy. Students make "cuts" by dragging a scalpel along the body of the frog, and then they can view a short video of what the cut looks like in a real dissection. The student can choose which parts of the dissection to do first, although some things have to be done in a certain order. One of the many nice features of The Digital Frog is that students can get just the main points for some sections but go much more in-depth for other sections. So if you have a very reluctant science student who just needs the basics, this can be accomplished fairly easily (although he just might find himself wanting to explore more!). But the student who wants to know "everything" has many, many options for exploring and learning about the anatomy of a frog. In addition to the dissection section, there is an anatomy section in which students can explore (through text, pictures, and video) a wide variety of topics that bring this subject to life. There is also an ecology section that explores the life cycle and environment of various species of frogs. Text-to-speech options and context-sensitive help and definitions provide just the right amount of help and information when needed. While The Digital Frog was designed for students in a 10th grade science class (including homeschoolers), it would likely be very interesting and helpful for students of any age. In addition to all of the great material in the program, the CD-ROM includes a 61-page study guide with workbook-style questions, charts, diagrams, and even crossword puzzles. The teacher's guide has all the answers, plus some additional ideas for using the program.

Would it be unprofessional to mention that while I am writing this review at a very late hour, I'm having a hard time dragging myself away from the ScienceMatrix: Cell Structure and Function program to actually write the review? Cellular biology can be complicated and difficult, but ScienceMatrix makes it understandable and fascinating. In a format that is similar to that of The Digital Frog, the program teaches the structure and functions of the various parts of cells. Students can build a cell and see what happens when they add or take away various parts, or they can try exercises in linking the cell structure with its function. They can study the specializations of cells, or they can compare different cell structures (such as plant and animal cells). All of the exercises include stunning computer-generated models and microscope photos of the structures so the student can see the real things. There is an integrated dictionary so that students always have access to more information or can review something they have learned. The various exercises and quizzes throughout the program help reinforce learning while giving students the flexibility to explore. Unfortunately, ScienceMatrix does not include a study guide on the CD-ROM, but there are some nice voice-to-speech options that would be helpful for students who are auditory learners or visually impaired.

You can download a free trial version of either of these outstanding programs from the company's website, www.digitalfrog.com, to try them out for yourself before ordering. We were very impressed by many things about both programs! The graphics were excellent and really helped make complex information more understandable and easier to remember. The navigation was simple and fairly intuitive. The depth of the programs was impressive, as was the flexibility that allowed students to explore at their own pace. My only real qualm about either product was the price; I thought the price of ScienceMatrix ($49) was pretty reasonable but the price of The Digital Frog ($85) was a bit high. The company offers various packages that would help. One minor point about The Digital Frog is that by not doing an actual dissection, the student would lose the texture and "feel" of the individual organs, which can help the student better understand some of the structures, but I think this is more than made up for by the wonderful graphics and incredible depth of the program. Overall, we found The Digital Frog and ScienceMatrix: Cell Structure and Function to be excellent programs that would provide a very comprehensive study of anatomy or cellular biology, either as stand-alone units or as very valuable supplements. I heartily recommend both products!

Product review by: Dr. Anne Margaret Wright, Senior Product Reviewer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, August 2008.

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