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Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Review of Microsoft Student With Encarta 2008

Microsoft Student with Encarta 2008 is a software program designed with lots of extras to help students complete homework assignments. It includes the Encarta 2008 encyclopedia, and retails for $49.95 to download at Microsoft’s website or $33.99 for a hard copy at Amazon.

The program’s main menu is divided into three categories: Homework, Projects, and Discover and Learn.

Homework deals with math and basic foreign languages like Spanish, German, French, and Italian with a link section that also discusses Latin and Japanese. The math section has an onscreen calculator and basic math explanations – helpful for me to review when I’m trying to help my children with their math.

As some of you know, they don’t call all math concepts by the same name they did when many of us were in school. They don’t “borrow” any more, they “regroup” in my children’s math classes. Plus my kids aren’t using an official book, so I can’t look over the explanation – they get supplementary handouts without any additional information on how to do the problems. So the math section looked like a godsend to me.
I didn’t like their link referral to because some video features on that site cost more money – you feel a bit bait and switched – and the pop ups to enter contests and register are annoying.

The Project section deals with writing papers and giving presentations. Presentations have become big at my kids’ school, so this section has great tips on how to present – whether my kids actually read the tips, I’m a bit iffy on. This segment shows you how to design PowerPoint Presentations, give speeches, and use Microsoft to create charts and graphs for your papers, including templates that make it really easy to produce spiffy looking graphics. The latter I know they will use.

Discover and Learn has the Encarta Encyclopedia, a section on Colleges and Careers, and a Fun and Games segment. College and Careers has lots of valuable tools to help you find admissions information and even financial aid advice. It has resume and cover letter templates and a place to track the paperwork you submit to different employers.

Fun and Games is organized by subjects like Geography, History, and Animals and Science. My eleven-year-old didn’t like them. The educational games didn’t seem enough like Playstation for him. My fourteen-year-old daughter loved the games, especially the ones about animals. She thought some of the resources were “cool.”

The best part about the Microsoft Student is the use of multimedia – sound clips, videos, virtual tours, as well as pictures and text. I also loved that my kids had a safer place to search for information than the World Wide Web. The sources were vetted, and I didn’t have to worry about checking every site they might run across.

My teenager did think some of the program was overly complicated. She needed to write a group of small essays for class and when she clicked on the “Reports” section it demanded to know what kind of essay she wanted to write before she could proceed. Different books and instructors label essays differently. Since she didn’t see anything that applied to her assignment, she went back to regular Microsoft Word to type the report. She says she “didn’t have time to figure it out” because she had to get her assignment finished. It tries to be a bit too helpful and provide too many templates.

These templates abound in the program – for essays, for PowerPoint presentations, for foreign language homework. If your student likes direction, this would be an excellent program. Mine are a bit more free spirits. We had a limited period of time to try it out, but I think my daughter prefers to design her own PowerPoint – she’s been doing it for years already, and she likes to be creative rather than follow a program’s format.

My favorite part is I can use Microsoft Student to assign my children summer homework instead of buying the expensive supplementary material the school sends home at the end of each year. To keep their brains from leaking info they learned in school, I’ll let them explore whatever interests them in Encarta and use some of the templates to write reports and make some PowerPoints for me. It also has math assignments they can complete. So there’s plenty of age-appropriate material to keep them occupied this summer and many summers to come.

Overall this program is best for late middle school to high school/college age students. My eleven-year-old boy didn’t have much patience for it while my 8th grader said she could see it being useful in high school next year. In spite of including too many templates in some sections, it’s a huge resource that would take months to explore. I only had a week, so I’m looking forward to seeing more of it as my kids use it for the rest of the school year.

This review is sponsored by Mother Talk.

1 comment:

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