How much do you know about Microsoft’s free tools for educators?

Submitted by Fiona Beal

Did you know that Microsoft has a number of free tools that can really make your  lessons come alive? Recently, when we attended the Partners in Learning (PIL) Institute week in Redmond, we didn’t spend very much time in the computer labs because the emphasis was on 21st century lesson activities, yet the tools enhanced everything we did.  In this post I would like to show you some of the ways the PIL members used the tools. In future posts I will take each tool and explain it fully showing its potential in lesson activities.


Photosynth ( is a web-based software application from Microsoft Live that analyzes digital photographs and generates a three-dimensional model of the photos and gives a 360 degree view of a scene. With this application you can shoot wrap-around panoramas and easily share them with others. This has ENORMOUS potential for school outings.  I must confsss that I knew about photosynth before leaving for the USA but I hadn’t explored it. Now I can see that it is a simple yet effective programme that can make any outing memorable.  On most of our learning excursions PIL members took many different photosynths to share with others. This meant that everyone could benefit from all the excursions.

Neung made 10 different photosynths of the Seattle underground.  Here is one of them:

One group took a photosynth of the Spaceneedle, one the highest points in Seattle. It is marvelous to still be able to still experience that  breathtaking panoramic view via the photosynth.

Bart used photosynth to teach us 7 Dutch words in his kitchen when he got back home.

Bing Maps

You know how it is when an application is introduced and it is good – well you tend to use that application even after others have been developed! So, I have been a Google maps fan and that is what I generally use in my lesson activities. I didn’t realize the potential of Bing Maps! There are so many interesting apps that go with Bing Maps that our learners will love using.

In this overview I will show two interesting ways that PIL Institute attendees used Bing Maps.

Dan from the UK was first. Before we got there he asked everybody to think about joining and write a brief introduction about ourselves. He then joined these to a Bing Map. This is a great way to get to know who is going to be at an event before you meet them personally. Here is the map: If you click on the image below you will be taken to the original in Bing Maps. 

Once you click on the person’s number on the map you can click on ‘more info‘ and you’ll be taken to their page. Dan is still adding details of everyone, but as he says, it is a great way to visually connect and possibly even collaborate in the future. 

Bram from Belgium made a Bing Map of all the places the various teams visited in Seattle. if you click on the map below you will be taken to the original in Bing Maps.

Another interesting feature, I think, is that when you have created a photosynth about a place, you can submit it to Bing maps and if they like it they will add it to their map.

One Note

One Note is an incredible programme for keeping yourself organised. One of our presenters Sonja Delafosse used One Note instead of PowerPoint for presenting her sessions. One Note also has a great web app where you can share your notes. Here is Sonja’s YouTube video called ‘What One Note can do’:

Movie Maker

Of course, Windows Movie Maker is the hit of all time. We all made movies about everything and uploaded them to YouTube in a flash. Nothing went unnoticed. I don’t think we’ll ever forget the PIL Institute week because so many lovely movies were made about it by the attendees. Here is one I haven’t used before:


This a great hit in schools. It is so easy to use and it does most of the work for you allowing you to end up with a very professional sounding version at the end.  When our group was having a practice session on Song Smith, by the end of the session there was already a movie on YouTube!

In the TeachMeet session there was a video about Songsmith within minutes.

Well, that ends my introductory post to some of the Microsoft tools and how they were used to make the week at the PIL Institute live on as an unforgettable memory forever. These tools are well worth exploring as you prepare your integrated lessons. 

« Return to Latest News

SchoolNet South Africa is an incorporated Non Profit Company - Registration 2001/012244/08, NPO Number 030-817
and holds Public Benefit Organisation (PBO) Status, in terms of Section 30 of the Income Tax Act - PBO Number 130003557.

Click here to support SchoolNet