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   HomeArticles / Software Reviews For Teachers / Demystifying Microsoft Office For Kids

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Demystifying Microsoft Office for Kids
by Diane S. Kendall

It seems like there isnít a business around these days that doesnít use Microsoft Office including Word, Excel and PowerPoint. These programs have, of course, trickled down to middle school and high school, but exactly when to introduce younger students to these more "adult" software products has been in question. Itís not because the Office tools are too difficult for children. It's more because they are targeted to adults, don't have the look and feel of children's programs, and can be confusing because of the multitude of options.

Microsoft has pushed for younger and younger students to use their products and some educators and parents have taken this path. At Microsoft press conferences Iíve seen some very impressive examples of what kids as early as first grade can do with Word and PowerPoint. But out in the real school world, Iíve also seen what happens when kids only scratch the surface of what these software tools can do. Too often they just learn how to use Word as a glorified typewriter and never get to some of the more powerful tools embedded in each software program that can take the drudgery out of assignments and add style to their presentations. They never really learn how to effectively work with these software programs or discover how to use these tools creatively.

Now comes Scholastic Keys, a software enhancement developed by Tom Snyder, that brings kid-oriented intuition to Microsoft Office . According to the folks at Tom Snyder, Scholastic Keys, "sits within the Microsoft Office environment," but what kids see are large, colorful icons and menus that help them explore just what these powerful tools can do.

Catchy names like MaxShow, MaxWrite, , and MaxCount correspond to Powerpoint, Word, and Excel. Included with the program are: clip art, a MaxPaint doodle-pad and drawing tool, templates with ready-to-use layouts, sound files, a voice and sound recorder, math activities, and a nifty text-to-speech reader. Kids can also import their own graphics into the programs.

Most students, especially the younger ones, will need an introduction to the program, but they'll soon catch on and guided by the icons will soon be trying different tools and options. Although most teachers probably won't need it, the program comes with a 78-page instruction booklet that outlines everything from installation to explanation of the icons to activities to do with children. Once it is loaded it on the computer, adults will notice that the task bar has the same options as in the "grown up" version but may find it becoming their own favorite way to interact with the Microsoft tools as well.

One point to emphasize -Scholastic Keys does not come with Microsoft Office . You need to have that software first. That should not be a problem as most schools have it on all their computers anyway or have a site license for it. As far as Scholastic Keys goes, you can try it before you purchase it by going to the Tom Snyder site (http://www.tomsnyder.com) and requesting a 45-day free trial. While on the site, don't forget to browse through sample screenshots and check out the User Resources that include free downloads of files created by teachers for Scholastic Keys, Clip Art Links (if the 800 files in the program aren't already enough), and Presenter Resources that feature help in making presentations more effective.

One thing Iíve heard can happen ( but it didn't happen to me) is that switching between Scholastic Keys and Microsoft Office frequently can sometimes result in the larger icons appearing on the Microsoft Office screen. If that does happen, there is an easy to implement solution in the FAQ listings on the Tom Snyder site.

Scholastic Keys is an excellent segway for teachers and students in elementary grades who should be making use of the power and creativity offered by Microsoft Office. If you have been thinking about trying to implement the use of these kinds of tools in your classroom but didnít know how to start, Scholastic Keys may literally hold the key.

Software Information

Scholastic Keys
Tom Snyder Productions
Windows 98, ME, and XP
$60 for a single copy, see the site for site license and group pricing

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