Visual Note Taking

These are notes from a recent class in my Linear Algebra course. Subspaces aren’t particularly hard to understand, but they form the foundation for most other advanced topics in Linear Algebra. Thus, (as we have been reminded several times by our professor) it is imperative to understand them extremely well.

Creating these visual notes helped me to understand and visualize concepts a lot better. In fact, since I had already studied this section, I tried to create these notes from memory as far as possible. This actually proved to be very effective because it allowed me to put forth my thoughts in a clear and (somewhat) organized manner. Initially, I thought this whole process would be time-consuming, and so it seemed definitively impractical and almost certainly impossible to create such notes for all my classes. However, this one page took me only about 30 minutes. This is the same amount of time I would probably take if I chose to revise the material by reading. Creating the notes not only made Math fun (not two words you hear in the same sentence every day), but also helped me to make these concepts almost intuitive– which is the goal with Math. It’s obviously a win-win situation, and I’m definitely going to try to make visual notes more frequently in the future.

Visual Notes

This is a typical page from my Chemistry 150 class. It is pretty visualistic, as you often have to show how the atoms bond together or how the energy in orbitals work and hybridize. I didn’t have the means to do it digitally, but after looking at the many visual notes example, I started using two colors to write notes, so that I can locate a particular example or a topic quickly.

My Visual Notes of Energy

Creating these visual notes to display energy in a more creative way allowed to gain an understanding of the course content better because not only did I review the information by just rewriting it, I only organized the most important parts of the content into visually appealing notes, that I can readily check for my biology class. I made these visual notes beneficial for my biology course and my chemistry course due to overlapping content. I got to view the content of energy from a different perspective from my usually dull and chronological text notes. I discovered that I enjoy creating these visual notes and will continue to make these notes for content that I find more strenuous or challenging to grasp. I found it enjoyable to turn dull information into something visually appealing because it makes me not grow tired of reviewing the content.

Visual Note Taking

        This is a note from a recent lecture in my biology course. We were spending several lectures studying the concepts of meiosis and how it works within cells. I utilized Notability in Ipad to draw this note visually, and it did help me think back and forth to strengthen my  understanding of the learning. First, though this topic was repeated more than once in class, I rarely had chance to draw it by hands; usually I would consider it too wasteful for time and just start to practice questions. However, this visual note taking utilizes a back order that enhances my memories in another way that I have never tried before; some detailed  obstacles encountered, such as how should I split the chromosome when cells enter into anaphase, connect with the potential concepts that I am not mastered at. Also, the whole idea of this assignment brings me to think that when completing a task, no matter taking notes or doing a labor work, thinking outside box or searching for unique clues may lead to effective results. The creativity of this assignment associated with our class is therefore impressed in my mind. 

assignment link:


For this side quest, I created visual notes from a day in my chemistry class. We were learning about hybridization and the overlap of orbitals (regions of space where electrons exist) in the formation of bonds within a molecule. My teacher did show images to represent orbitals as it is one of the learning objectives for our class, but I hadn’t drawn and took the time to understand this concept myself. Through these drawings, I was able to solidify the types of bonds created and ask myself how and where I can represent the different lobes of hybridized bonds. I really tried to focus on the drawing of these molecules and limit the number of words on the page.

I switched to virtual note-taking with GoodNotes 5 when this semester started, but I have never used it solely to draw pictures. I find it most helpful when I can write on worksheets and implement images from my textbook interspersed with my notes. I also try not to re-write my notes or create study guides as a studying method because I don’t find it as effective as creating flashcards. I do think my method works well, but this side quest opened my mind up to how to take advantage of my tools and implement drawings as part of my understanding. For example, when I was completing this assignment, I finally understood where the orbitals come from and found gaps in my learning that I don’t think I would have realized previously. In addition, drawing images is certainly more accessible with my tablet given that the app refines shapes and I have a multitude of colors and pen sizes. Previously, though, I would not turn to drawing because I would spend too much time drawing a doodle/diagram out as opposed to actually learning and applying the concept.

Visual notes

Drawn and taken by me.

For this assignment, I made a visual note page on mathematical induction – a proof method in my Math250 class. The main idea of this concept is that if a statement holds true for some simpler values ( typically 0 and 1), we can assume it holds true for a certain bigger value and then show that it also holds for values above this threshold, hence the statement holds for all values. I enjoy making this visual note because it came to me naturally, probably because Math250 is my favorite class and because I’m an intended math major. One aspect I could improve on, if any, would be coloring. I don’t have color pencils or a device with digital drawing tool with me so my work was rather simple and one dimensional. I am, however, still proud with the result.

Side Quest 8: Visual Note Taking

Due: 10/25

Tag: sq8


For your sketch assignment this week, I want you to create a set of visual notes for one day in one class (other than this one) that you are currently enrolled in. You do not need to take your visual notes in real time; in fact, I recommend that you don’t. I recommend that you attend classes and take notes in whatever manner you normally do, then after class go through your notes and recreate them as visual notes.

Giulia Forsyth

Domain of One’s Own” by Flickr user Giulia Forsyth

Giulia Forsyth is a visual note-taker and facilitator, which means that she is sometimes employed to go to presentations and meetings and to doodle notes for the meeting. Check out the four minute video below, where Forsyth gives a quick summary of how she began to take her doodling seriously and where it has led her.

Kenneth Robinson

As another example of visual note-taking, you might check out the video below from RSA Animates illustrating a lecture by Kenneth Robinson about educational philosophy. I suspect you’ll find the video much more powerful and engaging because of the illustration that goes along with it than you would if you were simply listening to the audio. What does this mean for your own practice?


For your sketch assignment this week, I want you to create a set of visual notes for one day in one class that you are currently enrolled in (probably not this one). You do not need to take your visual notes in real time; in fact, I recommend that you don’t. I recommend that you go to your classes and take notes in whatever manner you normally do, then after class go through your notes and recreate them as visual notes.

You do not need to draw your notes in a digital environment, either, though you are certainly free to do so. If you prefer to doodle with pen, pencil, or marker on paper then do that and once you’re done with your drawing, just take photos of the pages as JPG files so you can upload them to your site. If you have an iPad or other tablet or would like to draw on your laptop or desktop, then you might try apps like GoodNotesProcreateInkflow, or Adobe’s Sketchbook or search for other free/cheap drawing applicationsI am completely tool agnostic on this assignment, so make your drawings in whatever manner make sense to you.

Your visual notes do not need to be polished or beautiful or anywhere near as intricate as Forsyth’s. Do try to take this assignment as an opportunity to really engage differently with your material – don’t just make a series of doodles that follow the outline of the lecture or discussion in your notes but try to translate the concepts and information into a new, visual set of notes. You might think about creating flowcharts or diagrams, which are also visual devices.

Once you’ve got your notes, load them onto your course site as a sketch post. Embed the images from your notes into the post and as you do, take a few moments to reflect on the process and then write a paragraph or two about what you learned during the process of creating your visual notes. Did it help you to understand the course content any differently or better to create notes visually rather than just as text? Did you discover anything new about yourself or the way you think in the process? Did you find it enjoyable or find some aspect of it particularly interesting? Someplace in your reflective text, create a link back to this blog post assignment.