online notes

How Microsoft OneNote Can Help Your Kid Stay on Track

Written on October 17, 2012 at 8:13 pm , by

At the beginning of the school year, I sat my 16-year-old down at his computer and taught him to use the OneNote program in Microsoft Office to take better notes in class, keep track of assignments, and generally get himself organized so he could stop missing assignments and get better grades.

OneNote is like a digital three-ring binder. Haven’t tried it? You can take the preview of the latest version of Office for a spin for free here.

He doesn’t bring a laptop to class, but he does bring his smartphone (and some of his teachers are fine with that). But even if a teacher won’t let him bring out his phone in class, he can still jot notes during the day while the assignments and lectures are fresh in his mind. And he can snap photos of the blackboard and notes he jotted on paper and drop those in his OneNote notebooks. (He tends to lose paper.) His smartphone syncs with his computer (read on for more on that) so all the notes he takes on the run are waiting for him on his laptop when he gets home. This is helping him to keep it all together. And his grades are much better since we started this. (Microsoft asked me explain how this all works, in hands-on detail and with screen shots, at the OneNote blog. So check that out if you’d like more detail on how we set this up.)

Today I am going to tell you about the “Evil Mom” part of this plan. (Bwaa haaa haaa!) When we started out on this, I set up his class notebooks – one for each class; just like in a three-ring binder — by way of showing him how it would all work. Then I “shared” those notebook with him using SkyDrive.com so he could access them from his phone or computer. But, since I set them up from my computer and my SkyDrive account, I can still access those notebooks myself. (I could have just as easily asked him to share his notebooks with me, though, if he had set them up.)

Why would I want to read his American History notes? I don’t. But here’s what I do want to do: Drop notes into his notebooks about deadlines, missing assignments I see on the school’s parent assist website, and anything else I want to remind him about relative to each of those classes. In fact, I drop a picture of his online progress report in each class every week so he gets frequent status reports on his grades. This way he can’t pretend he is doing fine when he isn’t.

Here’s how my routine works.

I’m in my office, working. He’s at school. I see a note in my calendar saying he has a project due in history in a few days. I know he’s about as organized as a 16-year-old boy so, as his mother, I feel the need to remind him of this deadline. Instead of waiting till we are both home to mention it to him, I open his history notebook and make a note right there. I can see he has only sketchy notes on this project. So I can foresee the procrastination-followed-by-last-minute-scrambling that is in his near future even if he can’t. So I drop in a copy of the original teacher-issued assignment in there–I’m a super-organized dork and know where to find that–and a few Internet sources I think will be useful. OneNote comes with a handy web clipper so all I have to do is grab a snippet from a website and tell OneNote where to put it. It remembers the source and who put the note there for him. It’s a little like sending notes in class. Except I don’t have to be in the class to do it.

Will this make him start on his project sooner? No. But at least he won’t be running around looking for a copy of the assignment when he does get around to starting. And my few notes on sources will hopefully get him past the dreaded blank page and into the actual work. He will still require 16 reminders and threats from me and despite all that will wait till it’s too late to start. But, at the very least, his last minute will be more productive.

Does he mind me poking my nose into his school notebooks? Not so far. He actually seems to appreciate it since it is helping him get to a point where his grades reflect what he knows. I also think he is learning to appreciate the results of organization by seeing its effects. So I’m hoping we are in a training-wheel phase and that by next year, he’ll need less prodding. Hopefully by the time he gets to college, he’ll be well on his way to being a super-organized dork, too. (Hey, a Mom can dream, right?)

Christina Tynan-Wood writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle, and is the author of “How to Be a Geek Goddess.” You can find her at GeekGirlfriends.com, as well as here on Momster.com. Follow her on Twitter: @xtinatynanwood.