Are You Taking Notes or Just Doodling?

The answer is: BOTH

The ed-tech integration cohort I'm working with this school year completed an iPad scavenger hunt with 9 tasks that required us to look for apps and work together to solve problems.  For one of the tasks we had to use Doodle Buddy to create our avatar.  It was fun.  We giggled.  But the real world classroom application of creating one's avatar was not immediately apparent.  How would this task help improve my students' learning experience?
Here's the selfie and the resulting avatar from the scavenger hunt. Meh.

At the same time, in all of my classes, students have gone paperless.  They're taking notes and carrying out class activities using mostly Evernote and the suite of accompanying apps.  One that they've been using quite a bit is Penultimate.  It has similar capabilities to Doodle Buddy, but it connects rather seamlessly to Evernote, so it fits into my class better.  Here's how it works:

Before the Lesson
I upload the class notes to Edline and then create a QR code that will connect them directly to the notes so they can reference them during class.  As students enter the room, they scan the QR code and start previewing the resources (links to video clips and websites, PDFs of class notes, primary and secondary sources readings) we will use for the lesson that day.

During the Lesson
As we are carrying out class activities and discussion, whenever I put information up on the Smart Board, I encourage students to look at the documents that popped up from the QR code, screen shot them, and embed them into their notes in Evernote.  It's a quick process and it's a much more productive use of class time than retyping the information at the front of the room word for word by hand.
Notes on Toussaint Louverture from a lesson on the Haitian Revolution.

What I Found Out After the Lesson
As we were wrapping up at the end of class the other day, I was watching students review and clean up their notes in Evernote.  I noticed a couple of students had hand-written over the screenshot pictures to add details based on our discussion.  They put the screenshot into Penultimate, used the drawing capabilities of that app to embellish the notes as we talked in class, and then embedded the modified file into their work.  The result is personalized high quality file that they can reference later when writing their reflective blog post on the legacy of the Haitian Revolution.
Student notes showing connections between Louverture's life events and with color choices for emphasis.

This idea of doodle style note-taking is not new.  Students have always done it and, mostly, teachers have always questioned it.  One person that takes this idea farther is Sunni Brown.  She wrote a book called Gamestorming that challenges readers to use more visual techniques when working.

"The visual meeting techniques within are about doing what comes naturally to all of us: exploring, discovering, and reorganizing knowledge so we can make something better, at work and in the world."
 Some examples of her doodle theory in action can be found at Doodle Revolution.
This doodle is based on a TED Talk from Sir Ken Robinson called Schools Kill Creativity.
I think Brown is on to something.

Can we give students more freedom when we are teaching note-taking? Or, do they need to know the basics of outlining, graphic organizers, and the two-column technique before they can truly take advantage of doodles in a way that helps them learn?  Is this old/new technique something we need to give students more freedom to do?


  1. Kerry, this all sounds amazing. Do your students byod or do you provide then with the tech? Ever note in particular intrigues me. Do your students have a free version or is someone paying?

  2. Hey! Good to hear from you! We have BYOD, but I have access to 10 iPads in my classroom to supplement when some in the room don't have their own smart device. We are using the free version of Evernote right now, but if we keep up at this pace, I might be asking my friends in the front office for some funding!

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