Visual Note-Taking in the Tech-Based / “One to One” Classroom
Lately, with so many schools going on-to-one (with digital devices for each student), there can be a huge push to go “paperless.”
So many learning activities can be done online now, which is great in cases of visualizing apps, sorting activities, discovery labs, and more. But sometimes it can be a challenge to convert lessons that are best printed on paper into digital learning.
I know that many of you are using the doodle note method along with me, loving the brain benefits, and seeing great results. But I've had lots of requests for tips on how to convert them to a digital format for tablets and laptops.
Can’t Print Your Doodle Notes?
Even in a school that is not tech-based, there are days when problems arise and you just can’t make enough copies of doodle note sheets or other handouts for your students. Maybe you didn’t have a chance to run to the copier, you’ve reached your school’s printing limits, or your printer, once again, ran out of ink. We’ve all been there.
A great solution is using visual notes in a digital format. I’ve rounded up all of my tips and tricks to make doodle note-taking in a digital format as effective as possible!
Benefits of Visual Notes by Hand
First, a disclaimer: I strongly believe in doing notes by hand, on paper, whenever possible! (See this post on digital classroom vs. math by hand.)
But of course, there are times when digital lessons can be wonderful and practical. So the goal here is to do the best you can to maximize the brain benefits in any situation.
Visual notes in a digital format can give you a break from making copies, wasting paper, and using up expensive printer ink. Some days this format is more desirable, convenient, or just plain necessary for a successful class!
However, you should note there is a lot of research out there that shows notes are so much better when taken by hand, rather than digitally. Scientific American tells us that even though people generally type faster than write, more notes aren’t necessarily better.
In three separate studies that compare students taking notes by hand vs. students taking notes by laptop, they found those who wrote out their notes had a stronger conceptual understanding and were more successful in applying and integrating the material.
So, while there’s no doubt there are clear benefits to digital notes, keep in mind this format should be used in moderation. Students get the most benefits from taking notes by hand!
A friend of mine, Leah at leahcleary.com, provided an excellent post about how to make your worksheets work digitally. It’s actually much simpler than you may think! Here are the steps to get your doodle note sheets into a digital format.
You need to follow a few very simple steps:
- Make sure your worksheet is in PDF format. (Hint: you can do this with your smartphone! Simply take a picture of the your worksheet, save it as a PDF, and email it to yourself. )
- Have students add the free app DocHub to their Chrome accounts. You should have DocHub, as well.
- Assign students the doodle note sheet (or background template that you have pre-selected to work well with the lesson content) through email or the online platform of your choice. Even if you don't have Google classroom, you can do this!
Then, with their devices, students have easy access to the note pages (or worksheet). With DocHub, they can draw, write, highlight, and even insert text or images on their note sheet!
Another cool way to avoid printing or copying doodle pages is to let your students create their own graphic notes on an app on their device. The key is uploading a PDF of the doodle note backgrounds or templates for your students, that they can add to a note-taking app. There are many apps out there, and I have not played long with all of these yet, but here are a few to try:
This app allows you to use an interactive pen to markup any PDF, while still feeling natural through pressure. Change aspects of the pen quickly with the touch of a button on the pen sidebar.
Inkflow Visual Notebook
This free app provides a space for your students to upload images/graphics and create fantastic sketch notes with smooth writing tools.
A nice feature that I like about Inkflow is the ability to select an area and move it around. This can be so helpful in creating visual notes – Students can actually re-organize the page as they go, to improve the visual layout and flow! This helps overcome some of the challenges of student-created sketchnotes. One downside to this app is that you have to pay for colors :(
Although not free, this app is fairly inexpensive ($7.99) and provides the best platform for your students to create visual note pages! On this app students can annotate on PDFs, write on the app like real paper, search handwritten notes, and even convert handwriting to text.
This app is $5.99, and allows students to effortlessly create beautiful notes on their device. Your students can take unlimited visual notes with this app by handwriting notes and marking up PDFs.
If you’re looking for some great tips to better implement doodle notes in your lessons, keep reading! Here are some excellent tips for implementation:
1. Show a Sample
To maximize the benefits of doodle notes, you should allow students to fully express their personality and creativity. That being said, students may need a little bit of guidance to help get them started, especially if you’ve just recently introduced doodle notes. The perfect way to guide them is showing a completed sample of the doodle notes sheet when you begin the lesson.
2. Keep Research in Mind
Be sure to keep the research in mind as you implement doodling in math class. Keep your focus on the brain benefits as you guide your students through these.
Of course, just by coloring or doodling, they will get some visual connections and will activate both sides of the brain, but to maximize the benefits, this should ideally occur while also getting verbal input.
Scientists learned that the act of coloring or doodling requires just enough focus to keep you from zoning out, but not enough to actually distract you. So, in order to maximize this, there should be focused, active teaching occurring during the doodle note lesson.
3. Limit Time
When it is time to cut off the lecture or the lesson, be sure to stop. Stop just as you would with regular notes. Move on. Students who want to add to it can do so later during free time or at home.
Do not add class time for just coloring. That is not the purpose. If students do want to color, embellish, add a million little doodle spirals, that's fine. But once the learning and teaching portion is over, the brain benefits start dwindling. Coloring the corners is not the valuable use of class time that completing the note sheet is.
Guide your class to doodle as they fill the page, during the moments that they are still listening and learning. Let them do fancy lettering of a vocabulary word to help it stick in their minds. Let them color ideas that go together using the same pattern. Show them how to focus in on the visual triggers that will stick in their brain.
I am continually impressed by all of the teachers in Doodle Note Club! I am constantly hearing great ideas from other teachers about how they implement Doodle Notes. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Cindy, a middle school teacher, says, “My students have a ‘doodle notebook’ where they keep all of their pages. It is a very organized system, and it helps when they are studying for a test. The parents are aware of the notebook, as well, so they are able to see what their child has been doing in my class. ..”
- Susie, a Doodle Club Member, says,”...I use doodle pages to introduce a new concept and as a review. The review is usually jam-packed with information. I also include a practice question over the concepts. Doodle pages are fabulous. They can be as simple or complex as needed. The variety of color, decorative concepts and examples help students to use both sides of their brain to increase retention.”
To read more about how other teachers are implementing doodle pages, go to In the Classroom!