Professional Edition (3 CD-ROMs, classroom guide, poster), $250
Lite Edition (1 CD-ROM, no classroom guide), $50
To learn about the vast variety of life in California, it would be best to pack up the car, traipse around the state, and visit all the habitats and biomes to study them firsthand. But when that isn’t possible, Cal Alive! is a great option; without moving away from your computer or producing greenhouse gases, you can still get a vivid sense of the range and depth of California’s biodiversity.
Upon launching the CD, you’re presented with four choices: habitats, experiments and activities, field trips, and tutorials. “Habitats” introduces 53 of California’s 200 major habitats; you can explore them by biome and region. For example, in the Coast Range region, you can investigate the Closed Cone Pine forest biome. By clicking on “Experiments and Activities,” kids can solve a desert mystery by learning about the natural histories of the “suspects”—kangaroo rats, desert kit foxes, roadrunners, and desert bighorn sheep. “Field Trips” has two outstanding features: fly-bys and virtual hikes. Fly-bys are transects from west to east across California, from a bird’s eye view. Or take a virtual hike along the Mendocino Coast and peer into a tidepool. Independent explorers can delve into four “Tutorials”: geology, climate and water, ecology, and people and the environment.
We reviewed the Professional Edition-Teacher Package, which comes with three CD-ROMs, a classroom guide, and a poster. A Lite version, intended more for home use, consists of a stand-alone CD-ROM.