Inquiry with Evernote vol 1

Three weeks ago, I began exploring Evernote. Literally within minutes, I was convinced that it is an essential tool for inquiry-based teaching. I hope that by the end of this post, you will agree and want to join me in taking a huge step toward true metateaching.

If student curiosity is a spark, I want to use Evernote to ignite that spark into a raging inferno.

To be authentic, inquiry must be unpredictable. Inquiry teaching includes a fair amount of modeled and structured inquiry, but the deepest learning occurs when learners follow their own interests and processes to construct understanding.

I have been using Evernote to create an interconnected web of media that can be instantly searched based on criteria I create for my inquiry classroom. I already feel like a librarian from a futuristic sci-fi movie! Here is my process for curating resources:

1 Discover an image, website, video, etc, which I think would be provocative for inquiry. I most often find them on tumblr, education blogs, and science and geography journals.

2 Create a note. I prefer to use the Web Clipper and to clip a stimulating image rather than the entire webpage. As long as I ensure that the URL included in the note is correct, I can easily follow my note to its source for further investigation.

3 Customize the title of the note.

4 Add tags.

5 Done.

Tags are the key to creating an inquiry library. My system for creating the tags is what makes Evernote both a scalpel and a battle ax of inquiry. I use five categories.

General Use a few tags for broad categories. For example, ‘education’, ‘technology’, or ‘learning theory’. Each of my notes usually gets just 1 or 2 general tags.

Thematic I recommend to use 5-8 thematic tags relevant to your units of inquiry like ‘Who we are’ or ‘Personal Expression’. If a note that you create seems relevant to any of your themes, tag it as such. Keep in mind that the more tags you create, the more connected your inquiry notebook will be.

Conceptual tags such as ‘form, ‘perspective’, ‘identity’, ‘independence’, ‘creativity’. When inquiry is running rampant, concepts become the adhesive that connects learning across disciplines, genres, and any other classifications. I recommend using 7 or 8 key concepts so that your web of connections is strong, and many (50+) secondary concepts so that you can search very specifically. If you search for a secondary concept, it will connect to various key concepts which relate to more secondary concepts, and so on.

Disciplinary tags like ‘history’, ‘biology’, ‘music’. These will be useful when a discipline-oriented inquiry is unraveling or when creating presentations, displays, etc.

Specific tags like ‘moon’, ‘pelican’, ‘fuzzy’, ‘grief’. These tags simply describe the note. I also include tags like ‘graphic’, ‘photo’, ‘game’, and ‘website’ to tag each note as explicitly as possible.

If you curate a few hundred of resources in this way, your Evernote inquiry notebook will be a powerful tool for provoking inquiries both planned and spontaneous. If you curate a few thousand…

Let’s go through the process with an actual resource from my notebook.

How would you tag this image in Evernote?

The general tag I chose for this note is ‘bloom’s taxonomy’ because I feel it could provoke an inquiry all the way up the cognitive ladder. The thematic tags are ‘Sharing the planet’, ‘Who we are’, and ‘How we express ourselves’. My conceptual tags are ‘form’, ‘responsibility’, ‘creativity’. This note’s disciplinary tags are ‘arts’, ‘social studies’, ‘geography’. The tags specific to this note are ‘painting’, ‘color’, ‘fish’, ‘animal’, ‘nature’, ‘indigenous’, and ‘student work’.

Could there be more tags? There can always be more tags! The important thing is that your tags, in terms of categories and connections, work for inquiry by being broadly and deeply connected.

Also, take care that the link in the note directs to the website from which it came. This image happens to be from a blog post by a middle school art teacher which includes many other examples, so it could be an excellent provocation for deeper inquiry leading to researching the artist who inspired the work or contacting the teacher who posted the image.

Be sure to customize the title to your taste. I titled this note ‘Morriseau inspired paintings’. Often, the automatically generated title is quite long and jumbled. I prefer succinct titles.


My note for this resource. Click image to enlarge.

In conclusion, there are many implications and applications for Evernote in inquiry learning and teaching. Knowing that I have only peeked under the lid is very exciting for me and I plan to explore much more deeply and share my adventures and misadventures in a series of posts here at Inquire Within.

I hope your interest is piqued and that you will join me on this inquiry. What would you add? What would you subtract? Am I missing something obvious? I would love to collaborate to discover new ways to use Evernote to provoke and orchestrate inquiry learning and teaching!

“As metateachers, we design the physical, social, emotional, conceptual, and informational environments in which learners can thrive.” (from Bill Evans – Creative Process and Self Teaching)

from Symphony of Ideas (

About Bart Miller

Father, Teacher, Composer, Philosopher
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10 Responses to Inquiry with Evernote vol 1

  1. Tried your Evernote experiment and wondered whether tagging is idiosyncratic enough to make sharing a bit problematic for me. Evernote has been sitting in the dock of my screen for many years now and I have been on again/off again user, but mostly off. I think it could be an apt fit for me, but it seems like when I use it, it is self-consciously, like I am saying to myself, “By God I am going to finally use you for something besides gathering stuff.” This is totally unlike how I use a tool like Diigo which is to say every day and in a well-integrated workflow way.

    Maybe because these two tools are vying for the same niche in my info ecology I am assuming there is only room for one. I suspect there is room for both and your post makes me want to explore what that might be.

    First, I will designate Evernote for use in a particular inquiry project.
    Second, I will explore Evernote’s Trunk site to see what 3rd parties have added to Evernote’s functionality (wow, I don’t like that Latinate mess of a word.)
    Third, I will begin casting a wider net for tutorials and to do regular research on what others are doing with Evernote
    Fourth, I will share out notebooks to colleagues,family, friends. I am considering a major ‘dejunking’ in my life and I think Evernote might be a good way to set up my own Craigslist within my family as a way to distribute before I give away to others.
    Last, I will keep watching your blog and learning from you.

    Thanks, Bart, for sailing these high seas ahead of me or an even better metaphor for a Kentucky boy like me, thanks for blazing the trail here like Dan’l Boone.


    • Bart Miller says:

      Thanks for commenting!
      I think that having a purpose(s) in mind is very important, and I assume that if you have multiple projects developing, some important connections could be made between them.
      I’m only a few weeks in, in fact, I used up my first month’s upload space and it’s due to reset tomorrow. Better to invest in a paid account, I’m sure! Sharing seems like an important feature not to be overlooked.
      Please let me know what you find in the trunk! Great to have you in the wagon train (from a California boy).


  2. kath Murdoch says:

    Still to launch into my evernote inquiry Bart but your post has certainly been timely an helpful! Thank you


  3. Bart, I had to stop reading after I read about the five categories for tags… I need to go back to my myriad notes and tag them all like this!! I haven’t thought of Evernote for students, except to collate resources and create an e-portfolio, but I like your ideas for inquiry! To be honest, though, I can’t teach it to the kids until I practice it myself. Thank you so very much for this comprehensive post! Gotta go tag…!


    • Bart Miller says:

      Great! One of my greatest fears in this project is that I’ll realize a better system later and then have to go back and retag everything! Would love to get feedback about how it works for you. I think it could be especially useful for independent inquiry when students are looking for provocation.


  4. Pingback: Some ideas for using Evernote in education | Doug Vass: EDTECH Learning Log

  5. Pingback: Inquiry with Evernote vol 2 | Inquire Within

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