Apps for Note-Taking With iPads | Edutopia
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I vividly remember how I first learned to take notes. My sixth grade geography teacher lectured in outline style: "Roman Numeral one - China. A - Qin Dynasty. 1 - Rulers . . . " We wrote down precisely what he said, and to this day, I still take notes in outline form. However, consider Sunni Brown's TED Talk, "Doodlers Unite." She argues that engaging in sketching while listening to complex ideas further supports learning.


While outlining may work for me, what about those who value taking notes in the margins? How about students who may benefit from audio feedback? What about text-to-speech? Photos? Doodles?

When students learn to hand-write their notes, they focus on content and organization within a single medium -- paper. They can write in outline form, create concept maps, or use their own personalized system to support their acquisition of knowledge. But what about the students who struggle to write or prefer to type? For them, paper becomes an inhibitor. With iPads, the potential exists to leverage these same visual, auditory and kinesthetic processes with multiple media in order to help students make even deeper connections.

Cameras and Microphones


One of the most valuable features of iPad to support note-taking may be the camera. Students might take pictures of the whiteboard during class discussion and then add them to their personal notes. Others may choose to handwrite during class, take a picture of their paper, and then type additional notes to solidify their understanding.

In addition to incorporating photos, many note-taking apps also include audio recording. Imagine the power of supporting a student who struggles with written output by allowing him to quickly record his thoughts, in his own voice, and connect those ideas to the content. The camera and microphone have the potential of empowering students to focus on the task of learning rather than the job of capturing information on paper.

Typing and Drawing

We experienced an influx of "laptop kids" in our middle school. These were students with evaluations indicating that a laptop would support note-taking. However, after the first few weeks, these same students often stopped bringing their computers to school. Despite having spell check, a dictionary and legible text, the type-driven structure of a word processing program created a new layer of issues rather than supports. Because the technology eliminated the ability to handwrite and draw, it put my students at a further disadvantage rather than supporting their learning.

With iPad, these same students could both type and draw their notes. Whether using Penultimate combined with Evernote, PaperPort Notes (which also includes speech-to-text) or Notability, the potential exists to type and draw simultaneously as well as include photos and audio. Consider the impact on the note-taking process when a student could take a picture of a paper note-taking guide and then type, draw or speak on top if it. Suddenly, students have the opportunity to choose the medium that best fits their learning style.

Supporting the Process


In a recent workshop, one of my participants -- Cynthia McClelland (@CynMcCl), an eighth grade social studies teacher in a 1:1 iPad program -- explained how she addresses note-taking in her class. First, she encourages the students to take notes on paper. Then, she asks them to type a summary of their notes in Evernote and include a picture of their hand-written work. Finally, students add their notes to a shared notebook so that she can review them.

However, iPads could also bolster the first step in her process. What if, during the process of reviewing her students' notes in Evernote, she discovers that some of her students consistently miss important points or don't seem to include enough detail? With either AudioNote or SoundNote, she could document their note-taking process in real-time, within the context of the class, and then work to support the development of specific skills.


Both of these apps sync audio recording with what is typed or drawn on screen. (You can test this out using the free AudioNote Lite.) Tapping on a word or part of a drawing jumps the audio recording to the relevant position in the track. These apps provide the capability to review exactly what a student writes down while playing back the audio. iPad literally highlights whether or not the salient points were recorded.

More Than One Solution

One of my former colleagues would write all key concepts on the board before the start of her French class. She asked her students to transcribe the notes into their notebooks during the first few minutes of each period so that they could focus on listening and speaking rather than writing once she started the lesson. Across the hall, another colleague asked his history students to come with a three-ring binder. Each day, as they entered the room, he provided a new note-taking guide for them to annotate. Next door, our English teacher leveraged active reading strategies and note-taking directly in a text. When I describe this scenario to other middle school teachers, they regularly nod in agreement as they reflect on their own practices.

Much like teachers choose a teaching process that best suits their content area, students need to identify the app, or features of an app, that best supports their learning. Some students might enjoy the freedom of being able to actively listen and then take photos for later reference. Others might furiously type each word, and for some students, paper may be the most effective note-taking tool. The beauty of note-taking with iPad is its impact on all learners.

Comments (23)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Mara Riedel's picture

Hi Beth,
I really enjoyed your article. My school has just been awarded a magnet school grant and our focus is technology and language. I am excited that we will be getting ipads into the classrooms. I was thinking of the game applications that we could use. After reading your article, I can see we could do so much more - I can especially see how your ideas could work for 4th and 5th graders.
Today during my 1st graders science hands on investigation of seeds, I could see how I could apply the same ideas as far as letting them take pictures of what they observed and then record the ideas that they can't write yet.
I've recently started a reflection journal for my masters program and realized that I could be taking pictures of pieces of my lessons with my iphone or ipad and then adding it to a journal entry in Pages.
Do you have any similiar ideas for primary students?
Thank you,

Beth Holland's picture
Beth Holland
Instructor and Communications Coordinator at EdTechTeacher

Hi Mara.

You hit on some great points. The camera and microphone on iPad may be the most valuable assets for primary students! I wrote a bit about this in a few other posts:

There are some extraordinary teachers who are blogging about their use of iPads in primary classrooms. (grades 1-3) (3rd grade) (NTA iPad team from Chicago) (kindergarten)

I hope that helps!

Jackie's picture

Thanks Beth so much for your blog and the other helpful blogs. I have been teaching Algebra with iPads for three years. When I started it was fairly new to my area and it has been amazing to watch the use of iPads in the classroom evolve.Your blog and the others have really helped me think about new things to try in my classroom.

Bill Gibson's picture
Bill Gibson
Web Developer | Blackboard Admin

You can set up a free site so that you can "Post via Email" and "Post via Voice" (phone call). I've suggested that any device that can create an email easily (for me that is with a full-sized keyboard [Bluetooth], for accuracy & speed) can be used to create digital notes. I have a Samsung Galaxy S III phone that will even connect to an Apple Wireless Keyboard. I can take photos of black/whiteboard notes, and handwritten or typed notes and attach them to the posting emails that I send. If there is no WIFI available, the email program will still let me create the notes, and then send at a later time when connected. I tried using a drawing pad to get handwritten notes digitized, but you just don't have the control of pen & paper.

Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

My kids and I use Audionote and evernote- Audionote works great for classes, conferences, and more. My personal favorite, and worth the upgrade. You can also sync the audio with the Mac App and see content on your computer, avoiding any space limitations on your ipad.

classmint's picture
Co-founder at

Many schools prefer note-taking in Cornell Notes format.

If you'd like to take Cornell Notes, there is Classmint.

It also works in browser on iPad.

kay brizzolara's picture

Beth -

Our school's technology policy requires that iPads be checked out daily, have their memories wiped at the end of each day, and be blocked from accessing student personal email accounts or personal cloud based accounts.
As our iPads are not linked to a printer, these policies prevent students from being able to save or retrieve work created on the iPads. I would love to be able to use iPads for note taking in my room using any of these apps you mention. Do you have recommendations for how to make that possible within our school technology policies?



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