Shared Notebooks & Project-Based Learning

On Monday, I participated in a Project-Based Learning (PBL) workshop led by Clif Mims. During one of our sessions, we were asked to role-play PBL with this assignment:

1. Collaborate with partners to research the debate of the H1N1 flu vaccine. Review trustworthy resources taking notes and keeping citations as you learn. (Driving Question/Scenario)

2. Develop a list of some arguments for or against the vaccine. (Data Collection)

3. Share as a class. (Data Analysis)

4. Create a persuasive presentation advocating your decision.(Communicate Findings)

My group of 5 other teachers began scouring the internet to find credible sources to support and defend our argument. In order to keep everything centrally located, I suggested we use a shared Evernote notebook. However, none of my other group members had Evernote accounts (and some are a little leery of the tech).

Here was my solution:

Using my iPad, I created a shared notebook and made a public link which I emailed to each group member. As they found good articles, they replied with the link and quotes/stats/information. I then forwarded the email to my Evernote account using my Evernote email address. Two teachers preferred handwriting their key facts and information, so when we were finished, I snapped a picture of those and added a note to our notebook.

Our final product consisted of a shared notebook with 4 articles and some other handwritten key facts. Our sources were documented (with links) and stored where we all had access– rather than printed and kept in a paper folder that one group member would be in charge of (and inevitably lose).


Although this was a role-playing exercise, it was great sitting in a student’s seat for a change. Despite being the only group member with an Evernote account, creating a shared notebook definitely helped. Imagine if every student in a class had an Evernote account. Any time students would need to work in groups to gather information, they could create a shared notebook each group member would have access to anytime, anywhere.

As it is with teachers, using technology at school is still relatively new for many students. It’s our job to teach them how their devices will help them at school rather than assume they can figure it out.

For more ideas about how students can use Evernote at school, download a free copy of 19 Practical Evernote Ideas for Students.

Digital Notes with GoodReader

When I first encouraged students to take digital notes, I recommended Adobe Reader because it is free and relatively easy to use. My students liked using it, but we started looking for a better apps that allow us to take more precise notes. My (new) favorite PDF app is GoodReader ($4.99).

4 Reasons I prefer GoodReader:

1. More precise note-taking abilities. I use a pretty standard stylus (rubber-tip), and it’s tough to zoom in and be precise with Adobe. With GoodReader, notes are clear and precise.

2. More options. With GoodReader, changing colors is easy. With Adobe Reader, the only option is red. It is also easier to erase, highlight, and add different types of lines.

3. Cutting and Moving Notes. Similar to the cut feature in Penultimate, entire sections of notes can be cut and moved (if necessary).

4. Generally more user-friendly. It seems that every action I need is one click away. With Adobe Reader, I sometimes find myself looking for menus and actions.

These reasons are pretty general, but the more I’ve used GoodReader, the more I’ve liked it. I’m sure there are more technical aspects to compare, but from a practical-use perspective, GoodReader is just easier to use.

I created this step-by-step tutorial and posted in our shared notebook to help my students learn to take digital notes in class on an iPad.

Notes with GoodReader

The Steps Broken Down:

Step 1- Open Class Notebook and Select Note


Step 2. Select the PDF file to Open


Step 3- Click the “sharrow” (top right corner) to open file in GoodReader.


Step 4. Take Notes and Save Annotated Copy

GR3 Step 5. To send annotated PDF to Evernote, click the bottom “sharrow” and select “Open In…”


Select “Flatten annotations”


Select “Open in Evernote”


Once the note is in Evernote, be sure to title the note and move it to the appropriate notebook.

That’s it! If you’re interested in taking digital notes, you should definitely give GoodReader a try. It’s well worth $4.99.

For more ideas on how students can use Evernote at school, download the free ebook 19 Practical Evernote Ideas for Students

BYOD Classroom without WiFi

I often envy 1:1 schools and schools with unlimited WiFi. I would love to have classes that can instantly download something, search for information, or watch a tutorial on their iPads. Using technology in class is a game-changer, but my school currently lacks the bandwidth infrastructure (though it is coming!). Despite not having WiFi at school– yes, you read that correctly– my students have done a great job learning to use their devices (especially with Evernote) independently.

Thirty years ago, my school was built on the side of a mountain. It’s not a Rocky Mountains’ mountain, but an Arkansas mountain nonetheless, and for the original school leaders, having a reliable Internet infrastructure was just as high on their must-haves list as was installing field turf for the football field. It just wasn’t an option.

Fast-forward to today. Due to our geographic location, our current bandwidth is pretty limited, and WiFi just isn’t an option for our students. Even though we want our students to use technology in class, it’s just not convenient for them and they have had to work around some issues. For the students without 3G devices or unlimited data plans, using technology at school is sometimes (often) less convenient and very cumbersome.

However, I still have pushed my students to use their devices at school. For my class, Evernote has been great for several reasons:

  • Students create notes and sync later. It’s not uncommon for students to create a note on Evernote but then ask if they can share it with me when they get home (aka have WiFi).
  • Students have developed a rhythm of syncing their Evernote accounts before heading off to school. They’ve had to learn to think proactively and plan ahead.
  • Premium account members have offline notebooks which allow notes to be stored on the device as well as in the Evernote cloud. (We began the year hoping all students would be given Premium accounts, but that didn’t work out. Some students did choose to pay for their own accounts, but most still use the free account.)

This has been a good transition year of using technology at school– sort of. Next year we’ll have WiFi and the proper bandwidth for our campus, and we’ll move forward. It would have been really easy to stockpile classroom ideas for next year and wait for the perfect conditions– you know, playing the “if only… then” game. However, I don’t regret pushing the envelope and encouraging and/or requiring my students to use technology this year. It’s been great for me and for them.

5 Lessons I’ve Learned By Not Waiting Until Next Year To Implement Technology in my Classroom:

1. Be Patient— Sometimes I have to wait a day for something to be submitted electronically. Things get lost, deleted, or sent to junk mail. To help us through this, I’ve had to work with my students and help them figure things out.

2. Be Creative— Students have found if they stand by my window and hold up their devices, they sometimes have access to one of our school’s wireless routers. I don’t have a router (limited bandwidth, remember?) in my classroom, but the occasional signal really comes in handy. This is just one example of the many creative ideas we’ve had to make things work in class.

3. Be Flexible— The way I like to teach and have students submit assignments may not be the best. Sometimes our classroom needs to be flipped and students need to be able to work from home. Also, when students have “technical” questions, it’s really important for me to take the time to help them out.

4. Be Honest— “I don’t know” is a common response in my class. However, I follow it with “but I’ll figure it out.” I don’t have all the answers, and when the students understand this, they try to figure things out for themselves.

5. Be Adventurous— Trying something new and different is hard, takes time, and is guaranteed to fail at least once. It’s often easier to just not try than to try and fail. We’ve tried many different apps that simply didn’t work. Oh well. At least we tried, right?

These are great lessons I’ve learned, and aren’t they all lessons we’d like our students to learn as well?

Next year will be so much easier, but we’ve made things work this year. It’s easy to look at all the reasons why something won’t work. However, finding a way to make something work is way more fun.

To help students get started with Evernote, the Evernote Student Handbook may be what you’re looking for. Click here to find out more information and to download a free sample.