As many of you know, I am a geek. A techie at heart. I spend my days at my computer keyboard for my job and I am happy to do so. I work full-time in front of the computer and never feel like I really should be doing anything else. As a working mom, I expect that my boys get their lessons done at home with their dad there to help them when needed. However, since I am the one who designs/assigns their lessons, they sometimes have questions that their dad can’t answer, so I am always online for them through Instant Message or Video Chat (we all have webcams.) I also like to see what they are doing for work that day when they do contact me so that I am not trying to help them “in the dark”, so to say. So how do I do this?
Microsoft OneNote is the best kept secret that should everyone should know. In the previous edition of Microsoft Office, the 2007 version, OneNote was only included in some of the Office packages – like the Home and Student version. It was not included in all Office 2007 packages. Microsoft realized that people were just not getting the word about OneNote and that they needed to spread awareness of this wonderful program, so now in Office 2010, you will get OneNote with EVERY version of Office 2010 you buy! Here’s a quick demo of what OneNote can do: OneNote 2010: A single place for all your important information.
Last year, we used OneNote 2007 and while it didn’t have some of the great collaboration tools that it version 2010 has, it was a great way to get started with using a virtual notebook for school. Each of the boys have their own computer, so I installed OneNote 2007 on each of their computers. I then setup their notebooks for them with some section groups, sections/tabs and pages in an organization that I thought would help them find what they need to work on and that made sense to me (and hopefully them, too.) Luckily, our core curriculum, Trail Guide to Learning, provides the Student Pages of the program in PDF form on a CD. Using OneNote’s “Insert File as Printout” or “Print to OneNote” feature, I can put their Student Pages right into OneNote in such a way that they can now just type right on top of the page to do their work! Here are some images to give you an idea of how I have structured our notebooks:
And here’s an example of how I setup their assignment To-Do list for the day, complete with links to the corresponding pages within their notebook, checkboxes that really work for checking off completed work, and highlighting to make sure they don’t skip over something they shouldn’t have.
Since they were expected to do most of their work in OneNote on the computer, they also spent about 2/3 of last year working through a typing program to improve their keyboard skills and reduce any frustration over using the keyboard to do their schoolwork. They were much more acceptable to this idea than practicing handwriting and doing all of their schoolwork by hand on printed sheets of paper! (However, this year we ARE working on handwriting 3-4 days/week even though they still do most of their work on their computer.) And this year, we have upgraded everyone to the new OneNote 2010 version, expanding our collaboration capabilities tremendously!
Now, the best part of the new OneNote 2010, in my opinion, is the ability to save the notebook to the web in a folder shared only with the people I choose. No longer do I have to be on their computer or even in the same local network (at home) to view, annotate, and correct their work! I can be on my computer at home, my computer at work, or anywhere else in the world – really! I have a folder called Public Notebooks on my Windows Live SkyDrive that is only shared with members of my family where all of our virtual notebooks are stored. (We currently have 3 – one for myself and each of the boys.) Once we tell OneNote that the notebook is stored in my Windows Live SkyDrive account, then each time we open OneNote, it opens the notebook(s) from that location. And, it immediately starts synchronizing the local, cached copy to match what is stored on the web. On top of that, I can open and edit the notebook using my web browser wherever I have an Internet connection and modern browser (IE, Firefox, Chrome)! So no matter where I am or on whatever computer I could find, I can open pages in the notebook and provide comments to the boys about their work!
Another nice feature of using OneNote is the ability to easily add images (from their computer or the Internet), audio clips, and video clips. They can even create audio and video clips right in OneNote! So, one of the things I have them do is to narrate, or tell back, what they have read that day for school so that I know they really read it and to help them remember what they read. (Research has shown that immediately retelling what you have read or heard, as in a book or lecture, increases your retention of that material by a huge amount without even having to take notes!) With the multimedia capabilities of OneNote, they have the option to do these narrations as audio, video, or written – or even drawn in Paint and pasted into their page! So I can reduce the amount of required writing each day making the narrations much more painless and still accomplish my goal for them being done daily. Dragon Rider usually chooses to video his narration, sometimes even acting out the scene he is narrating. Alex Rider says he feels strange talking to a computer without someone like me on the other end (as in a webcam video call), so he types out his narrations most days. Never fear though, they still do other writing everyday of one form or another. I just want to minimize the difficulty level of doing narrations so that they get done consistently and more thoroughly.
Another feature I really like about OneNote is that it automatically includes the citations from a source that has been copied/pasted into its pages. For instance, the boys copy and paste an image from a webpage showing something related to their studies, a picture of George Washington perhaps, and underneath the pasted picture is a hyperlink to the exact web page of the original image. If they copy/paste something from a file on their own computer, there will be a link to that file underneath the pasted material. So they can keep track of the sources of anything they compile into OneNote! A great tool when doing research and grabbing snippets to use in a report or such thing.
I mentioned that we use Instant Messaging and Video Chat as well. We use Windows Live Messenger for both, thought occasionally use a program called Logitech Vid that came with the webcams to do video chatting. The addition of webcams has greatly improved our communication because now we aren’t limited to how fast we can each type, and the boys can actually show me something that they have a question about using the camera. It was really frustrating at times in the past when I couldn’t see what they were talking about, or when I was trying to get them to see something that I knew was there because I had read it the night before and they just aren’t seeing it, for whatever reason. Due to my work’s network capacity, the video is still sometimes a bit choppy, but it works pretty well and the audio is almost always good.
These are the main tools and features of those tools that we use to make homeschooling more manageable for our family. I hope this will spark some new ideas for you as well!