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Educator Software Review: Inspiration

This review reflects the observations and experiences of independent teacher volunteers, and is provided as a service to Education World readers. The review in no way constitutes an endorsement of the product or its manufacturer by those teachers or by Education World.

Inspiration, a product of Inspiration Software, Inc., is a concept-mapping program for students in grades 6-12. This visual learning tool provides diagramming and outlining environments designed to help students organize their ideas.

Recently, Education World asked five reviewers, all teachers or educational technology specialists, to check out Inspiration with real students in actual classroom situations. Each teacher was asked to use Inspiration with his or her students for a period of at least one month, note specific strengths, weaknesses, and/or quirks of the program, record personal observations or suggestions -- both positive and negative -- and rate the software on a scale of 1-4.

The results are in -- and this is what our reviewers had to say!

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 "This is a great piece of software for organizing thoughts and developing ideas in a diagram fashion."

"Our eighth-grade students do an end-of-the-year performance assessment project involving the investigation of a career choice. The culmination of the project is a ten-minute presentation in front of peers, teachers, and parents. Using Inspiration 6 would help students develop their thoughts and ideas."

"At approximately $35/license for 25 copies of Inspiration, I could see many of our core (math, science, language arts, and social studies) teachers utilizing it with their students to help them organize and develop projects."

"The students loved working with this software. I used a language arts template to help students become familiar with the program: They performed a character analysis of a character in a story they had read. The activity allowed students to think past the novel and draw their own conclusions, to analyze a character and formulate ideas succinctly, to organize their thoughts and ideas. The visual mapping also led to a better understanding of the character and the story and will assist in knowledge retention."

"My students were excited to use this program. Our class is currently completing a research paper in science, and students are using Inspiration to create an outline of the paper. The students will not be using a template; they will create their own templates."

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"I installed our copy of Inspiration on 25 PCs running Windows 95. Approximately 150 students in grades 4 through 6, six regular classroom teachers, two resource teachers, and a technology integration specialist used Inspiration for brainstorming initial ideas for our science fair competition, as well as for brainstorming and organizing poems. In two 30-minute sessions, students were taught how to create a web using Inspiration. Students brought in an idea they wanted to research for the science fair, then wrote down ideas or questions that came up as they brainstormed about their topic. These ideas and questions were put into bubbles. Students then grouped the bubbles into categories such as: causes, symptoms, characteristics, and appearance. They then linked the bubbles with arrows, arranged their webs, created outlines, and printed out the outlines."

"This software would work well to help students at all levels identify main ideas and subtopics and take notes. The only difficult part would be to find the time to learn the software and input the information. Good templates are included, but their subject matter is limited."

"An excellent way for teachers and students to get organized!"

"All too often, we use technology for technology's sake, even though we could accomplish many of the same tasks with pen and paper more easily and quickly. What makes a software product worthwhile to teachers is when it disappears upon use and instead the content and the student's thinking processes come to the forefront. In only 30 minutes, students as young as fourth grade can learn how to make basic concept maps using Inspiration -- maps that help them organize and brainstorm ideas in ways that can't be done on paper."

"What makes Inspiration a terrific value is its relevance in most any content area in grades 4 through 12. Funds for software are limited. When one has the choice between a content-specific product (say, reviewing algebraic skills) or a concept-mapping program that crosses age and subject boundaries, the choice is clear. If I could purchase just one software program for upper elementary through high school, Inspiration would be my choice."

Editor's Note: As is the case with Kidspiration, site licenses are not available for Inspiration. The company does, however, offer both volume licensing and cumulative pricing for both software programs. In volume licensing, the price of the software is based on the number of computers a school or district wants to load it on: the larger the license, the lower the price per computer. In the cumulative pricing program, if a school buys a 20-computer Inspiration license today and an 80-computer Inspiration license next month, the school receives the lower volume-licensing price on the second purchase. Pricing also is cumulative across a district, whether a district representative or an individual school purchases the licenses.

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"Installation was simple and pain-free! I recommend leaving the 'Tip of the Day' feature on to help students learn the program."

"The program was a pleasure to install. The students can do it themselves."

"It took less than two minutes per machine to fully install Inspiration on PCs running Windows 95. Uninstalling took even less time. I wish all software was this easy to load!"

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"I spent about one hour on the software before teaching it to my students. They were able to use it with a few rather brief instructions."

"The documentation was clear and concise, offering step-by-step directions for usage."

"Inspiration is quite simple to use. The only real challenge in teaching first-time users was slowing them down! Many kids were steps ahead as I tried to teach them how to use the program."

"One criticism: Though Inspiration is in many ways kid-friendly and similar to most Windows programs, we found that the page layout was unnecessarily confusing to kids. For example, in a word processing program, it is clear where the margins and edges of a page are, so students know where to place graphics. In Inspiration, the page is almost endless, which perhaps allows for more flexibility. However, many of my students would drag bubbles down as far as they could, then were unable to locate them again. Only by minimizing the screen several times could we see where the bubbles went."

"The program takes time for teachers and students to learn how to use it. If mistakes are made in the outline, it's hard to go back and correct them. A visual tutorial at the beginning would be great."

"At times, the teacher was unsure about where to go next!"

Student Comments
Steven: "I think it was easy to click on words to change, add, or erase something."
Jordan: "It took a while to figure out how to undo mistakes. But now I have no problems."

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"This program is not very processor intensive, so performance will be great even on older machines."

"The students especially enjoyed the ease of using graphics and searching the various libraries."

Student Comments
Sergio: "I kept forgetting to un-highlight my stuff and lost it, but then I learned how. Now it's easy to change stuff when I want to."
Kim L.: "I liked putting pictures next to my word boxes, but I needed more pictures. I wish they had more."

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"The program does extend student learning by making outlines but eats up time by putting in main ideas, subtopics, and notes."

"The program made students think. After linking their words into categories, when the outline came up many saw that some words needed to be in another group. They went back and revised and ended up with a better product."

"I can see how this could be used in the classroom for reading, English, social studies, and of course creative writing. It could replace the amount of paper we use for graphic organizers."

"The greatest quality of this program is that it can be used in any discipline; it lends itself to any activity or lesson the class is working on."

"A great organizational tool."

"Because so many of our students are visual learners -- thanks, in part, to video games, TVs, and computers -- the program complements their style of learning.

Student Comments
Bryan: "I liked how you could just drag the pictures to where you wanted them and change stuff without doing a lot of work."
Chanta: "It wasn't boring; it was fun to put our work on the computer and print it out. My work really looks nice."

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"The manual is an excellent reference for the teacher. Since it's next to impossible for students to share such a manual, the fact that Inspiration provides a Help program that can be accessed while using the software is very helpful. The 'Tip of the Day' is a nice touch. Students can view a new tip each time the software is opened."

"Very little help was needed. The students seemed to navigate and discover how to use the software on their own."

"A video or CD training session would be helpful, so students could work on their own setting up practice outlines before trying to use it for real."

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