OneNote: Keeping Me Organized

By | November 7, 2010

Though I am a HUGE fan of Google Docs, and use it frequently at home and work, there’s one piece of software that keeps me from living fully in the cloud: Microsoft OneNote.

In this post, I’ll share a little about how and why I use OneNote.


OneNote is great for organizing my curriculum. I create one notebook for every course that I teach (much like physical binders I used to keep in my office).


Within each notebook, I organize courses by units, or sections (tabs).

Pages & Subpages:

Within each section, I use pages for each unit topic. Subpages contain problems, images, and links that I use for different lessons. After each lesson, I tend to create either a sub-subpage, or annotate a subpage to make notes to future me about what worked well, and what warrants revision in years to come. With standards-based grading, I use it to keep a record of problems I give for reassessments.

So why do I use OneNote?

My Folders are black holes

Usually, I organize documents into folders, and sub folders, and sub subfolders. This tends to work well for me for about two months, and then even the folders become an overwhelming mess on my desktop or My Documents folder. And in order to find something, I either have to know where it is, or rely on the slow search function. With OneNote, organization is more intuitive. When I paste or import documents into OneNote it tells me exactly where the original document is.

Tablet Annotation

I use my Wacom tablet frequently with OneNote. Whether its writing out solutions for screencasts or highlighting points of interest in a JChemEd article, OneNote makes the process seamless.

Google Docs certainly doesn’t have ink functionality, and while Evernote does, ink notes are separate from regular notes.

Evernote just doesn’t do it for me

When I switched to Mac only a few years ago, I spent ages trying to find a piece of software that would compare to OneNote. Evernote is one that that came somewhat close. It certainly has its advantages, such as portability, but its really only great at organizing other people’s stuff. I find OneNote works just as well at that, with the added perk of organizing stuff I create extremely well. When I surf the web, I keep OneNote docked to the desktop, so I can copy and paste content of interest (with an automatic link back to its source). As I’m happy to move back to Apple only, I’m hoping an Evernote expert can convince me that it works as well.

Mobilenoter is an app that syncs OneNote to iPad and iPod/iPhones reasonably well. While it doesn’t have the same capabilities as an EverNote app, it is great to be able to view and edit my notebooks on the go. The OneNote WebApp also allows me to access my notebooks from computers that don’t have the program installed (like at my school).

I used it to make this blog post

Not only can ink annotated pages be exported to PDF or Word files easily, but I can also publish pages directly to my blog. It is also useful to jot quick notes or ideas, organize screencaps, or record an audio clip of random thoughts that may or may not evolve into a post.

Anyone else out there use OneNote? Love it? Hate it? I’m very interested in hearing about your experiences in the comments (particularly in how it compares to Evernote).


Nicole Steinbok on November 8, 2010 at 8:24 pm.

Great post on OneNote! You mentioned that using OneNote is preventing you from fulling living in the cloud. In case you were not aware OneNote notebooks can be in the cloud using SkyDrive to share with others or to just share with yourself across computers\phones.

There is a great blog post here on how to set it up:

Nicole from the OneNote team


Frank Noschese on November 11, 2010 at 1:29 am.

I keep playing around with OneNote but have yet to dive right in. Is it installed on your school network? (It’s not on my school’s network, and our personal laptops are not allowed on the wireless network either.) But your nicely detailed post has given me the urge to explore OneNote once again. Thanks!


Ms. Bethea on November 11, 2010 at 6:01 am.

No OneNote installed at school. We still have office 2003 there (at least on my machine). Perhaps I could request an upgrade. My old school had it, and it was my pre-Google Docs way of sharing notes with my students (saving to network drive)

I access it from school using the OneNote WebApp. It doesn’t have most of the functionality, but I’m able to read it and edit text, and add pages and sections into existing notebooks (or create new ones). However, our network speed is so slow or inconsistent that it is rarely worth it. I’ve been bringing my personal laptop.


J. Horner on November 11, 2010 at 11:53 am.

I have been using OneNote in almost the exact same fashion that you mention in your post since I started teaching 3 years ago. I organize all of the curriculum in the same way and keep track of notes. I use it to synchronize files between home and school via my USB drive as well.

In class I have been using my personal tablet PC to model note-taking with students. I insert a printout of the guided notes that I have prepared and take notes with the students. They are generally very receptive to this and love the use of technology in class.

I keep a separate notebook filled with Journal of Chem Ed and other digital journal articles which I also highlight and annotate. It’s been a great way to keep track of the scholarly literature by topic and to organize that part of professional development.

It’s awesome to see someone else using OneNote in the classroom like this. I’m the only person in my very large department who is (and we have 35 science teachers). I love it’s ability to be used in both planning and teaching. I cannot imagine ever teaching without a program like OneNote and a tablet PC!


gasstationwithoutpumps on November 11, 2010 at 4:08 pm.

35 science teachers?? How many students does your school have? My son’s high school (a medium-size school with about 1100 students) has only 6 science teachers. The biggest departments are math and English at 9 each. The total teaching staff is only 59, not all of whom are full time. If your school is linearly scaled, it would have 6000 students and a teaching staff of 350, which is bigger than any high school I’ve heard of.


Frank Noschese on November 11, 2010 at 11:42 pm.

@gsw/op: How can there only be 6 science teachers at your son’s school? We have 1200 students (grades 9-12) and 18 science teachers (total faculty is just over 100).

Things that drive up our science staffing: Science classes are capped at 24 students and must have at least 12 students to run. Most of our science classes meet for an additional lab period on alternate days. We also have a lot of science electives and AP science courses.

You can see our program here:


gasstationwithoutpumps on November 12, 2010 at 11:11 am.

This is California, where schools are the first things stolen from when the state budget doesn’t balance. Science is one of the first things cut, since it costs money and isn’t as important as sports. Science classes run 35-40 students, and there aren’t many of them. No AP bio, AP chem and AP physics in alternating years.

1 life sciences teacher
1 chem honors/ physics teacher
1 chem honors/ chem teacher
1 physiology honors/biology teacher
1 biology/woodshop teacher
1 biology teacher

(Note: even with only 6 science teachers, one has to do woodshop as well.)


J. Horner on November 12, 2010 at 10:32 am.

We have almost 4500 students in the school. I’m one of 9 chemistry teachers. The entire faculty is slightly over 250, and I have to be honest and say that I definitely do not know everyone by name or even subject area. It took a while to adjust because I went to a high school with only 500 students.


Ms. Bethea on November 11, 2010 at 4:26 pm.

What tablet PC do you use? I’m hoping to get my own soon (or wireless external tablet) for school that I can use in class like you.


J. Horner on November 12, 2010 at 10:35 am.

I’m using an HP tx2000. They certainly have newer models available now. I got a good deal on this one around a year and a half ago. It’s small and portable but has decent specs. Even though I only use it for classroom teaching (I have a desktop at home), it was well worth the investment!


Kevin Wallace on February 13, 2011 at 11:36 pm.

I am late to this post, but have you ever tried Circus Ponies Notebook? Working on a Mac, I have never used OneNote, but from what I have seen, it works similarly to Notebook.


Ms. Bethea on February 13, 2011 at 11:51 pm.

I tried Circus Ponies. It seemed similar to OmniOutliner at the time (good for notetaking), but lacks the versatility of OneNote. I think Growlybird might be closer? I haven’t used it myself:

It will be awhile before I go back to Mac. I’m loving my cheap PC laptop, and my next purchase will be a tablet PC. .


collegestudent on January 18, 2012 at 5:49 pm.

i was wondering if you recommend using onenote as a student in class for an honors chemistry course -to record lectures and take notes
thanks! :)



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