Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Some classroom tools from Learning Suite by Microsoft

Last week I attended a professional development course organized by Microsoft Latvia where a handful of teachers were prepared for serving as mentors of Microsoft technologies in education.

The picture which I took on a crisp sunny August day shows the 10th floor terrace of our hotel with a view of the Baltic Sea.

I am sharing with you some ideas about one of the Microsoft products - Learning Suite.
It is a package of innovative applications for education and one of its best features is that it is free to download. The only condition for using most of the tools included in the set is the requirement of Windows7 on your computer. Some of the applications also work on older Windows versions. You will also need MS Office 2010.

First go to Partners for Learning website and register. Click on Resources and select Free tools. Then download Learning Suite by Microsoft.

The new interface lets you see all tools in one place. Tick the application you want to install on your computer. You need not install all apps, pick those which you would like to use. If you wish, you can install other tools later.

Here are some of the applications I tried and found useful.

AutoCollage is an easy and quick way to make collages. Upload as many pictures as you wish and let the tool do its job.

Here's a collage I made.
Can you guess the question I was going to ask my students?

Right! - What London landmarks can you see in this collage?

Another fun tool is Songsmith.
Songsmith generates musical accompaniment to the voice. Students write lyrics, choose a musical style, sing into the microphone and the tool puts everything together in a song.
It's a perfect tool for music lessons but students can sing grammar rules or new vocabulary as well. Working in pairs or groups adds to amusement and helps to overcome shyness.

Photosynth is an application for photography fans. The idea is to take a large number (20 to 300) of images of one object, upload them to Photosynth and the tool will create a 3D picture with zooming and rotation features. You may suffer a couple of failures until you succeed in making your first 3D picture though.
Students can use this application to create innovative visual projects. Visit Photosynth homepage for more ideas and inspiration.

Flashcards can be made by both teachers and students for studying vocabulary online. One deck can have up to 300 cards. A card can have text, image, and sound to make the learning process more optimal. All flashcards are stored on the Flashcards homepage and can be accessed at any time. To play flashcards, you will need Silverlight plug-in which can be downloaded for free.

Mouse Mischief is a fun tool for younger students. As it is a PowerPoint add-in, after the installation you will see it when you open your PowerPoint. The teacher can then click on the Multiple Mouse tab in the toolbar and start making a quiz, a test or a poll. A student is given a mouse and votes or answers a question by clicking on the right option. The teacher can control the pace and procedure of the activity.

Partners in Learning website offers resources and tutorials for each application, and of course there are a lot more tools to be discovered and mastered to engage and motivate students.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

What I like about Windows 7

Now when Windows 8 is knocking on the door, I have finally installed Windows 7.
Those who have been using it for a while and have already explored its possibilities, may not read further. Because what I am going to write will be for rookies. And no, I am not going to review Windows 7.

Recently I stumbled across a forum where people ask questions about technologies. My eye caught this. A true LOL answer!
Q. Do you know how many people use windows? (meaning the Windows operating system)
A. I dunno. The only people I know that don't use windows are prisoners.

I am not a technician. I am not even a computer teacher. What I need is simplicity and effectiveness when I use a computer. Here is what I found in Windows 7:

1. The Snipping tool. Brilliant! 1-2-3 and you have made a screenshot! I feel sorry for all those numerous screenshot tools that have been produced so far. Who needs them if you can use an inbuilt tool which is just one click away?

2. Sticky notes. Digital notes that you stick on your screen and use exactly in the way you would use a paper note, it just sticks to your screen and displays your notes for as long as you need.

3. Aero Peek. Sounds smart but in reality it's again a very simple feature! When you slide your mouse across the buttons on the taskbar at the bottom of your screen (provided you have opened several pages or files on your computer), each button shows thumbnails of all the pages and makes it very easy for you to get straight back to the document or webpage you recently viewed. This is efficient indeed!

Now my next step is to open the windows wider.

P.S. I wanted to finish this post 15 minutes ago in July but finished in August. How time flies!