Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Software Review: Microsoft Sudent with Encarta

I teach kindergarten through fifth grade computer classes so I was eager to get a chance to preview this Microsoft product. We use the Office Suite at school and have moved up to Office 2007 this year. It's a learning curve. Microsoft Student is an additional program intended for 3rd grade through high school students.

It includes Encarta Premium 2008 Encyclopedia with 60,000+ articles, videos, photos, illustrations, sound and music clips, maps and links to preselected web sites. With an Internet connection you will be able to update continually for one year. Since I am currently reading the book Three Cups of Tea I spend a lot of time reading up on Pakistan and Afghanistan. The photos of the mountains and information on climbers was fascinating. There are 3D panoramas of Mount Everest and other high peaks. The quality of the video is not exceptional but the still shots are beautiful. The map feature helped me place the villages that Greg Mortenson talks about in the book. I learned a lot about the cultures and languages of the people of that region. Encarta has a good overview and links for further reading.

The encyclopedia also includes these reference tools: Encarta World English Dictionary, Thesaurus, Quotation Dictionary, Translation Dictionaries, and Foreign Language Verb Conjugations. The Math Tools section of Microsoft Student includes tutorials for pre-algebra, algebra, geometry and statistics. It also includes step-by-step instructions for using a graphing calculator, solving equations, and working with triangles.

The other sections of the program offer extensive writing help, with reports, research projects, presentations, foreign language tools, search tools and style guides. Students can plan a project, get organized with graphic organizers, work on pre-writing, drafting, revising and editing by following the prompts using pre-formated templates for Microsoft Office software.

The main focus seems to be on what a high school student should be learning. For a strong, alert student with good math English teachers this program might be redundant. Home schoolers would get a lot out of it I am sure. The tutorials and writing aides are all things that should be taught in good middle and high schools. Students that benefit from extra reinforcement or who are in weak schools would be wise to invest in something like this. It also includes tips and prompts for preparing for college applications and job searches.

I had a lot of fun exploring this software. I did find that it required a lot of disc space and slowed down my computer. It crashed a couple times when I was running more than one Microsoft program and online all at the same time. It requires a PC with XP with service pack 2. The box recommends a 1Ghz or faster processor and almost 3 GBs of hard drive space for full install. The Learning Essentials templates and toolbars require Microsoft Office XP, Office 2003, or the 2007 Office system available separately. Access to sounds and videos requires Windows Media Player 8. Access to interactive media requires Adobe Shockwave and Adobe Flash. I had to install it on my work machine because at home I have a Mac and an older PC.

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