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OneNote to rule them all

Today’s post was written by Kurt Soser, math and physical education teacher at the HAK Steyr business college in Austria.

As a passionate, tech-savvy and always-looking-for-best-solution math teacher, I am always searching the Internet for programs and apps to help me get the most out of my teaching profession. There are bad ones that I use one time for a five-minute test-flight, there are great ones that I use regularly, because they help me. And there is OneNote, the one tool that I literally can’t teach without!

In 2009, after getting a tablet PC, with a stylus, I discovered this “beast” within an Office 2010 beta test program. From that moment on OneNote has been my favorite tool, not only for my teaching profession, but also for my private life.

A brief personal history

I have taught mathematics and physical education since 2005. For the past five years, I have been teaching at the beautiful, new and innovative business college, HAK Steyr, in Austria—a recently nominated Microsoft Showcase school. Since my first days at university as a student, I have embraced technology for teaching and education.

I strongly believe that math is something that has to develop in front of the student’s eyes. Although the best way of learning math is to find out things for yourself, sometimes it is very important and inevitable that we show important concepts to our student’s step-by-step. In addition, it was always hard to make mathematical inputs into a computer system, because of the very own mathematic characters. So it is often necessary, that we use the “good old chalkboard,” what I call the “analog” world.

I was often struggling with switching between these both worlds, because they have both advantages for different learning scenarios. In 2009 when I discovered OneNote all my problems vanished. For the first time in my teaching profession I was able to combine the “digital” and “analog” worlds—and I got some extras!

OneNote–more than just a digital whiteboard

OneNote has not only become a substitution for my chalkboard, it has enhanced my teaching with some great features. I can collect all the materials I need for my lessons into OneNote and my students can collaborate with me and with each other in our class notebook. Last year I made a small video demonstrating how I use OneNote in my lessons and a demo notebook.

In the beginning, I set up a notebook for each of my classes and shared it with my students. Now with OneNote Class Notebook Creator this is far easier to establish.

OneNote to rule them all 1

Every handout is placed in OneNote and then annotated directly on it.

 Although my students do not have tablet PCs, I can use our school’s computer labs regularly and my students can work with OneNote, Excel and other great online learning resources. Even on their computers at home or on their smartphones they can see what we have been doing and add their assignments.

OneNote to rule them all 4We do work a lot of with Excel and my students embed their work into OneNote
where I can easily grade it.

I really love the idea of collaborating, because in my opinion, peer learning is very important for my students’ progress. They can learn from each other and from their mistakes rather than learning from the “perfect” teacher’s solution. For example we did some function analysis and I assigned a different mathematical function to every student. They did great work and we collected all finalized projects in our class notebook and discussed the outcome of each students’ work. The most important thing was that they had to talk about their problems and record this into OneNote. That was a whole new experience to them—not only doing calculations but explaining to others what they had done!

OneNote to rule them all 3

My students collected their work and then talked about their math problem (embedded audio file).

Since OneNote runs on every device, I often use smartphones to collect work. We did a small trigonometry project to measure our school building. I took my students outside and using a smartphone we captured some photos to collect data. Afterwards we worked on it in the classroom to find out the length of our school building. And again, everything is kept in one place: files, screenshots, sketches, notes and pics. Even the calculations can be done in OneNote.

OneNote to rule them all 5OneNote project page on measuring our school building.

As you can see in the illustration below, I gave students audio feedback, another great feature in OneNote. It is easier to explain what they got wrong than to write it down. And it is very motivating for my students to hear what they got correct!

OneNote to rule them all 6Example of a students work on our trigonometry project with audio feedback.

Final thoughts and what’s next?

I rely on OneNote every day and my Microsoft Surface Pro 3 is the one and only companion to my classes. The stylus input is essential for me as a math teacher. I also think there are great other possibilities to use OneNote without a stylus. OneNote has truly reshaped and enriched my teaching and although I have used it now for six years there is far more to explore. I want to get as many as possible students and colleagues on board with OneNote. To facilitate this, I am holding l OneNote workshops in Austria to show the power of this magnificent software. I am also working on a free, interactive math workbook based on OneNote.

Right now I am planning to establish a dedicated 1:1 tablet PC class (as in Austria up to 30 students stay together for all subjects in one class through their school career). So every student should be equipped with a stylus–based tablet PC to turn the “digital school bag” into reality. This project will be the foundation of my PhD thesis on the, “Impact of Paper 2.0—the use of a stylus-based tablet PC in math education.”

Please feel free to contact me to get to know more about my use of OneNote at my personal blog at

—Kurt Soser


Kurt Söser’s personal blog

OneNote demo notebook

Sway OneNote love

OneNote video

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