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PhoneSchooling: Homeschooling with OneNote and OneNote Mobile


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I’ve been using Microsoft OneNote 2010 and OneNote Mobile for Android as tools for homeschooling and organizing our activities. Microsoft will tell you that OneNote is a note taking and information management system that can capture your to-do list and important information.

What I will tell you is that OneNote lets me create notes at home on my Windows computer that I can access on my mobile phone — when I need to know the soccer schedule, when my son needs access to a science quiz in the car, when I need my notes for work, or when I need to remember my errands.

It’s PhoneSchooling!

You can read the basics about OneNote and access a demo at Microsoft’s OneNote page, but I’ll tell you a little more about how we use it.

How We Use OneNote

OneNote, which comes with some editions of Microsoft Office, is set up like an onscreen notebook with sections, pages, and subpages. This is intuitive for me since for many years I have made and used similar organization strategies on paper. In fact, TheHomeSchoolMom has similar templates available for organization on paper. OneNote has helped me use some of the same ideas virtually.

I set up a OneNote section for each of my kids and also have sections for things such as library, homeschool co-op, groceries, errands, menus, medical appointments/notes, vacation, and to do lists.

I have separate virtual notebooks for my work and volunteer work.

The beauty comes in the pages in each section. For example, in my youngest son’s section, I have pages for academics, sports, and music.

Keeping Up with Academics

In his academics page, we have sub-pages for each of the subjects he’s studying. Those pages include copies of the syllabus and homework assignments for science, writing, history, and logic — which were emailed and/or uploaded to our co-op’s Facebook group, so they were easy to copy/paste into OneNote. We can also add study notes he makes from his reading and practice quizzes that I have created for him for his science class.

So far, this doesn’t sound so miraculous. However, I also have the OneNote app for my Android phone, and I synch it with OneNote on my Windows PC through Microsoft’s online storage and file sharing service, OneDrive (available for Windows/Mac/Android, iPhone, iPad).

Synching OneNote to a Smart Phone

This means that when we make a long drive or find ourselves with down time between activities while we’re out and about, we can easily access the information through the phone. He can review his study notes, access the practice quiz, or remind himself of homework. If we find ourselves at the library, we can look for the required books he’ll be reading for co-op.

I was leery of SkyDrive, but it has worked really seamlessly to keep the information flowing between my phone and PC. There are some storage limits, but so far we haven’t hit them, so I don’t know if that will be a big deal. Setup was easy.

Keeping Up with Extra-Curricular Schedules

On my son’s soccer page, I have pasted in his regular season game schedule, his tournament schedule, practice schedules for two different teams, directions to soccer fields, and his team roster. If I have one of those eerie “wrong place/wrong time” feelings, I can view virtual versions of the original documents rather than just checking my calendar, where I might have mis-entered the information.

(By the way, OneNote is designed to integrate with Outlook, which has a calendar, task list, and email manager, since they are both Office products, but I’m not currently using Outlook, so I can’t comment on whether this is valuable).

Screen Shots, Lists, Notes, Lesson Plans, Photos

In addition to using copy/paste, I can add screen shots or write my own lists and notes directly into the program, either on my phone or computer. You can also use it to store things like receipts — just take a photo of them and store the photo in OneNote, so you no longer have to keep the paper!

This past week, I even found myself using my phone to access my notes for the writing classes I was teaching. I had created lesson plans on my PC in Word, but my printer failed, so I thought I would be teaching from my notes on my laptop.

However, as a last-minute thought before I left the house, I copied my notes into OneNote. Instead of carrying my laptop from classroom to classroom, I found myself using my phone to access the notes I needed while I was teaching.

To see how other people are using OneNote, do a search on something like “how I use OneNote.” You’ll get lots of great ideas.

Where to Find OneNote

I am currently using the free version of the Android app OneNote Mobile, available from Google Play. There is a limit to the number of notes you can originate on that app as I understand it, but since I do most of my note making on my PC, I’m not running into that limitation either. It has quickly become one of the most used apps on my phone.

You can get a free trial of OneNote for your PC.

OneNote is available for iPhone, iPad, and Mac, but I don’t have personal experience with them, and the reviews look mixed.

EverNote, the Alternative

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention OneNote’s prominent competitor, EverNote, which is free for Mac and Windows and your mobile device (Android or iPhone), but has a premium version with more capacity and features. I haven’t tried EverNote, but I know some homeschoolers who love it, so I’d recommend checking into each program to see which one is right for you. TechHive has an excellent one-on-one comparison of the app versions of OneNote and Evernote.

It’s also true that OneNote Mobile is not as feature-laden as the full version of OneNote I use on my PC, and, according to reviews, this really bothers some users. Since I don’t do much composing on my phone, I don’t seem to miss those features in the mobile version of OneNote.

Mobile is Pervasive

The Pew Research Center reports at that “half of all U.S. adults now have a mobile connection to the web through either a smartphone or tablet. . . .”

OneNote is not something you need to be able to homeschool. A paper planning notebook kept us organized enough for years, and yes, my son is also responsible for keeping up with his backpack full of some of the same information on paper.

However, it’s not surprising to find it useful in a landscape of increasing dependence on mobile devices.

More Efficient, More Effective

While I could still use the old fashioned notebook, I do find OneNote is a time saver for me. I don’t spend time physically copying and hole punching pages and constantly rearranging them to keep them current. I also find it is much better for holding on to snippets of information that previously seemed to never make it into my paper organizer, probably because they were written on napkins with a crayon.

I am more consistent at quickly typing those little notes into OneNote on my laptop than I ever was at typing and printing them or hand copying my notes to get them into my paper organizer. This means I spend less time looking for stray napkins or searching for the same information a second or third time.

And, using OneNote, we seem to be more productive with unexpected “found” time. I’m not a big proponent of making all found time productive time, but since my son has elected to take part in an academic co-op, he has a fair amount of homework, and it can be a real bonus for him to be able to access some of his assignments and study materials remotely and spontaneously.

Homeschoolers Innovate through Technology

Increasingly, we turn to our smart phone for news, weather, and educational apps (more in a future post!), as well as for managing our calendars.  Using a virtual note keeping system in the same device makes sense for homeschoolers, who are nimble innovators when it comes to education.

Jeanne Faulconer

A popular speaker at homeschooling conferences, business groups, and parents’ groups, Jeanne Potts Faulconer homeschooled her three sons in North Carolina, Mississippi, and Virginia for twenty years. Jeanne is director of Brave Writer's Homeschool Alliance, which provides homeschool coaching, community, and "grad school for homeschool" for parents. She is the contributing editor for TheHomeSchoolMom newsletter and writes the popular Ask Jeanne column, addressing homeschool parents' questions here at TheHomeSchoolMom. She is a former college faculty member, former editor and book reviewer for Home Education Magazine, a long-time editor for VaHomeschoolers Voice, and a news correspondent for WCVE, an NPR-member station. Holding her Master of Arts degree in Communication, Jeanne has conducted portfolio evaluations for Virginia homeschoolers for evidence of progress for many years.

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