Thursday, March 24, 2011

Organizing school work and notes

Who doesn't like to be organized?  It brings a peace and calm to our environment, yet for some it's so hard to attain.  What gets in the way?  For us, it's never ending mountains of paperwork.  I just can't seem to get rid of any of it!  I have gotten better at it, but it's still a work in progress and one that I'm sure I'll be struggling with for a long time.  I can't even begin to tell you about all the things I've purchased in the name of "organization".  Some of it is used and some sits just waiting, lonely in a corner, to be put to use.

I find that my girls are the same way, in that they are constantly searching for that next best organization item....and then there is the "Mom, I really need a notebook for this; I need a notebook for that"...there are notebooks, binders, looseleaf papers, folders and accordian files EVERYWHERE!  They're always asking me for ways to record and keep track of their assignments, too.  First I looked into the FREE version of Homeschool Tracker.  It worked well for a little while.  Then a fellow homeschooler recommended Homeschool SkedTrack, which is very similar to Homeschool Tracker, but online and also gives the student the availability to check off completed assignments.  Both are great programs, but they didn't really fit ALL of our needs.  Another friend had talked about using Microsoft OneNote for her son to use as a virtual notebook.  What?  A virtual notebook?  You mean no more loose papers, 10 million notebooks, or a need for multiple binders and folders?  Ok, so 10 million is an overstatement, but could OneNote work for us?  I decided to look into it more and have been working on setting up academic notebooks for the kids this week.  OneNote has many notebook templates, including one specifically for students. 

Here is an explanation taken from the OneNote website explaining exactly what OneNote is (we are using OneNote 2007): 

Microsoft OneNote 2010 is a digital notebook that provides a single place where you can gather all of your notes and information, with the added benefits of powerful search capabilities to find what you are looking for quickly, plus easy-to-use shared notebooks so you can manage information overload and work together with others more effectively.

Unlike paper-based systems, word processing programs, e-mail systems, or other productivity programs, OneNote delivers the flexibility to gather and organize text, pictures, digital handwriting, audio and video recordings, and more — all in one digital notebook on your computer. OneNote can help you become more productive by keeping the information you need at your fingertips and reducing time spent searching for information across e-mail messages, paper notebooks, file folders, and printouts.

So, I've set out to utilize this new tool (new to us anyway).  Here is a screen shot of what the student planner looks like for us right now:

As you can see, there are tabs across the top.  These are called sections.  The template comes preloaded with the Start Here, To Do, Class A, Class B, Class C, Project 1, Project 2, and Student Clubs tabs.  My thought is to use the To Do tab for assignment planning.  I haven't yet decided whether to update this daily, weekly or monthly yet.  This should give each of the children a starting point each day on what to accomplish.  Here is what I've done so far to customize the notebook:

  • I renamed the Class Tabs to fit the subjects, Math, Science & Social Studies 

  • I created a Bible Studies, Reading Log and Grades tab.   

  • I created two Section Groups for those subjects that may include more than one subsection. 

    • The first Section Group I created was for Language Arts, which then broke down into tabs labeled Spelling, English/Grammar, Handwriting, and Writing Journal. 

    • The second Section Group I created was for Music; this broke down to Hymn Study, Composers, and Instruments.    

  • We've been able to change page templates in each of the sections to match (some closer than others) the subject.  There are preloaded templates that are planner, academic, blank or decorative in nature. 

  • I was able to download a One Year Bible Reading plan template and set that up as a page in the Bible Studies section. 

  • I copied that template to a second page and customized it to be a checklist for their AWANA Checkpoints.  Other pages in that section will be created to correspond to their daily Keys for Kids devotionals...sort of a devotional journal.  They can record the key concept, key verse, and the discussion questions there.

  • I was able to create and insert a table into a page under the Reading Logs section so the children could record their daily reading activities.  This will come in handy for requirements we must meet to satisfy state regulations. 

  • I was able to download a powerpoint template for a multiplication table and insert it into a page in their Math section

  • The only drawback I've encountered so far was the ability to embed a spreadsheet into a page that I'd be able to enter their grades into and still have the spreadsheet do the auto calculations for averages and overall grades.  I was able to copy the spreadsheet into the page and enter the data, but it didn't change calculations with newly added information.  Unless future versions of OneNote change to include this capability, I've just decided to insert the actual file (which is a link to open the file) onto the page.  I was also able to password protect and lock the page so the kids are not able to access this section and make changes to their grades. 

I will continue to work on tweaking the sections and pages with input from the girls (I don't think the boys are as interested in this as the girls are) on how to make the notebooks more efficient and accomodate them to our needs.  It is my hope that we can eliminate the need for so much paper in our school room which will also streamline the gathering of information and materials for each of their portfolios.    Next time, I'll talk about how I was able to set this up so that we can all access the notebooks from 2 different computers, without the need for online file storage sites.

Until then, happy organizing.....


  1. Looks great, and it sounds like you are finding ways to go more paperless. Be sure to back up as pdf's your notebooks so you don't have happen what happened to my teen. His laptop crashed. :( We love One Note I use it for many things ~ :)

  2. Thanks Tracey!

    Do you back up as a pdf daily? I would imagine that if they use this the way (and as often) I would like them to, then a daily backup would be wise. Surely don't want them getting upset to lose all that work....