OneNote—the instructional springboard for your classroom

Today’s post was written by Lara Dabbagh, assistant principal at the Coláiste Bhaile Chláir school in Ireland, and Daragh Jordon, Niamh McCullagh, Sarah McHale and Vitska Mulroy, Microsoft student ambassadors.

The Coláiste Bhaile Chláir school is a Microsoft Showcase School. They replaced all traditional textbooks with a digital teaching and learning resource, using Microsoft OneNote and Office 365 as a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE).

Perspective of the assistant principal

When we were tasked with developing a replacement for all textbooks in our school (a significantly radical move in Ireland), we had no idea the world of opportunities it would open up.

Each subject department set about developing their resource using OneNote. Using Office 365 as our VLE, we enjoyed seamless sharing within our school community. This removed all the barriers of the multi-email/username time trap that teachers are all too familiar with. Initially our aim as teachers was to ensure students had the content necessary for each subject. Soon after beginning we saw that the presentation of content was just one element. We recognized that if we made the primary focus on activity creation and the presentation of content secondary, we were able to create a much more engaging environment, one conducive to the student-led approach.

OneNote became the springboard and platform for all activities. All topics in the OneNote Class Notebook have tabs for each chapter title, and under the tabs are pages with chapter content and activities that guide students through the pathway of understanding. Activities include learning objectives with both the content objective, to meet the syllabus needs, as well as the skill focus, to ensure students develop the necessary 21st-century skills. Pages are structured to guide students through a task, facilitating a deeper understanding of topics. Students acquire information, evaluate and present it—creating an environment where students can identify learning as their goal instead of the completion of assignments. As a teacher, OneNote is the ideal platform for 21st-century lesson design and enables us to take a multifaceted approach to assessment. It complements our instructional leadership techniques by providing us with greater control over the content and resources, allowing us to choose when and how to share certain aspects. We can adapt each topic for a tailor-fit approach, as well as for discreet individual differentiation to create a more inclusive environment. We can give instant feedback and have access to all students’ work in an efficient, easy-to-access manner.

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As teachers, we are constantly striving to enhance motivation and responsibility in our students. Using OneNote Class Notebook as a platform has allowed us to achieve this. We can easily implement the flipped or blended classroom by embedding an Office Mix. Extending the walls of the classroom in this way allows students to utilize the Pause button and control their own learning. In essence, it levels the playing field. Students know what will be asked of them in the next lesson and have time to explore and become comfortable with material. Removing the fear of failure or ridicule in front of their peers, as well as giving students the opportunity for success, significantly improves motivation. Using this model facilitates a smooth transfer into an active class; students have completed the pre-learning and can now engage in an active experience. Tasks can be set in OneNote, as well as the success criteria and scoring rubrics. You can choose to include suggested resources such as websites or apps, etc. It does not have to be a technology-based task. For example, as a Geography teacher, a task I would add may be about a rock hunt around the school. In this case, OneNote will just act as a support, providing the success criteria and support resources. Students can document their findings (inserting photos, videos, sketches, etc.) in their section of their Class Notebook. This facilitates students’ organization and gives them the ability to build portfolios to keep their work. Students can also utilize the sharing opportunities in the Collaboration Space and complete shared group projects, where they can get examples of rocks from their homes and contrast the different findings. In the same vein, we can use the Skype features to link with different classrooms across the world, exploring the different findings of the same task.

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The unique integration of all the most used apps, as well as embedding links, develops a student’s organizational ability. This combined with the Microsoft Surface Pen features provides students with the opportunities to enjoy all the benefits of digital inking. Students hand-write assignments, and OneNote serves as the place for all subject copies and ring binders combined.

The Microsoft student ambassadors weigh in

Microsoft student ambassadors from left to right: Niamh McCullagh, Daragh Jordon, Vitska Mulroy and Sarah McHale.

As students, we use OneNote for our subject materials and to help get us organized. This allows the student and teacher to work together in a private environment. The teachers can give feedback and correct the student’s copy. In addition, group work becomes easier and faster, allowing for more classroom collaboration.

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The use of technology within the school is great. The traditional school bag that weighs more than you can imagine, and full to the brim, is non-existent in our school. All our workbooks, notebooks and textbooks are stored on our devices, reducing our load so much that we are no longer all walking around the school like decrepit old people.

All of our textbooks are accessed from OneNote, making it easy to navigate between textbooks. OneNote allows us to do so much with just a click of a few buttons—from initially sharing a notebook to constantly, effortlessly syncing the notebooks. All of our notebooks are shared with us by our teachers, which enables them to edit existing pages and add new pages to our textbooks without any hassle. OneNote can sync before we can blink, ruling out all the antagonizing effort of taking down oodles of notes just because the textbook is out-of-date.

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However, it is not just an improved and more current textbook. All of our own individual student OneNote Class Notebooks are synced with our teachers’. This enables teachers to see how every student is participating both in class and at home. Our notebooks are confidential between a teacher and a student, so all feedback, corrections and advice is shared in a very private environment, which also makes students feel less self-conscious about the thoughts of the rest of our classmates.

Our textbooks are updated with the latest information, and our teachers can track our work ethic in school. But it doesn’t stop there. With our OneNote Class Notebooks, group work has never been easier. Gone are the days when we dreaded project work. Now, our work can be shared among our peers, who can edit and contribute to the project—all at the same time.

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OneNote is being continually used to make little everyday things easier for students. By just turning on our devices, we have access to our homework, textbooks, revision activities, emails, etc. through OneNote and Office 365, meaning that the 21st-century student can use one device, with one application for every subject. Once you allow OneNote to sync, you have access to all your material for every subject on your device, anywhere.

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The opportunities educational technology resources offer us are endless. We use a vast range of them in our school: Kahoot, Office Mix, Sway and PowerPoint, just to name a few. All links can be embedded in OneNote, so we can access them anytime. One of the best-loved classroom revision tools is Kahoot, where students race each other to answer questions correctly, usually used at the end of a chapter for revision—but it can be used to introduce a topic too. Kahoot is always greeted by a cheer from the class, no doubt being one of the most enjoyable educational activities used in our school! Office Mix is highly effective in revising topics learned in class at home and provides students with the experience of being in the classroom once again. Sway, PowerPoint and many more presentation tools help us present engaging visual presentations.

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So, as you can clearly see from the points mentioned above, technology has made teaching and learning much easier in Coláiste Bhaile Chláir, from easy ways to share and edit projects within a group to the use of endless resources such as OneNote Collaboration Space, PowerPoint, web-based resources, etc. The students are becoming highly organized and it has had a very positive impact on our learning. OneNote is visually attractive, and we find this aids with our learning; when we change the design or color of a page, this emits positive vibes. The stylus is an extremely useful feature with our Surface devices. These enable us to write on the pages on the screen, as well as type. We can draw diagrams and label them, and we can create colorful mind maps to revise with, as seen in the pictures.

We hope to have given you a brief insight into how we use OneNote in Coláiste Bhaile Chláir and a big thank you to all teachers and students who shared their work and practice with us when writing this blog.

—Lara Dabbagh (@LDabbagh, @laregalwaycoll)