Review by Marianne Rogowski, Common Sense Education | Updated February 2018
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Bear

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Write, edit, and sync content on the go with flexible note-taking tool

Subjects & skills
Subjects
  • English Language Arts

Skills
  • Communication & Collaboration
  • Character & SEL
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
6–12
Great for:
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Pros: Quick, easy setup will have you taking notes and using features in no time, and the clean user interface helps keep clutter at bay.

Cons: The lack of voice recording capabilities may frustrate some users, and it will take some practice to become adept at the features.

Bottom Line: For an app that doesn't have a lot of bells and whistles, it's surprisingly versatile and useful for many types of writing and note-taking.

Bear is refreshing in its simplicity, managing to be useful without being complicated. Use Bear for teacher and student productivity -- teaching note-taking and list-keeping skills to help students organize their work and manage assignments. Promote student collaboration by having students share sets of notes to a class document in order to provide more breadth and multiple perspectives, or improve classroom communication by designating a class minutes keeper so that absent students can stay caught up.

Feeling creative? Use the hashtag and linking features to make a "choose your own adventure" activity to connect content among notes. Build up students' writing skills by giving them time to create, share, and give each other feedback on their work. Assigning a project? Create agendas or project checklists to share with students, or create notes or reminders to share with students via your preferred LMS, in school or on the fly. Students and teachers conducting research can benefit from the easy tagging via hashtags, the ability to insert links, images, and creating connections among notes. In the increasingly crowded field of note-taking tools, Bear is a standout in that it manages to do a lot without trying to do too much.

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Bear is a writing and note-taking tool that uses hashtags and other basic coding commands to organize content and simplify searches. The app is free for most features and is one of those rare instances where users can download the app and get started without a huge learning curve. Use the plus sign (or the pen and paper icon on a Mac) to start a note. Users can add headings to organize content and one or more hashtags within the same note to create what essentially amounts to folders and subfolders. Content is nested in three layers, with folders and subfolders on the left, snapshots of notes in the middle, and the current note on the right, but Focus mode allows users to hide nonessential layers.

Searching for notes is made easy via hashtag or keywords. Shortcut coding text and buttons allow users to easily highlight, insert a date, right- or left-justify, move items up or down, and link to other notes or URLs, and the markup features make editing a snap. While most features are free, some, such as the ability to sync across devices and export to certain formats, are available only via the premium subscription. Users should note that checklist items are crossed off as they're checked, but not deleted or archived. A voice option to dictate (currently available only on the Apple Watch) and a lock feature to password-protect notes would add a lot to Bear's value, but even as-is, this tool makes mundane writing tasks a pleasure.

Note-taking and writing are essential skills, so any tool that can make the process more accessible and more engaging will benefit both proficient and struggling writers alike. Teachers can help students develop skills to increase productivity and organization, and the relative ease of use makes Bear a good fit for learners from middle school on. The text-to-speech option may be helpful for students who struggle with reading or are vision-impaired, and users with dyslexia may benefit from high-contrast themes and the more readable Open Dyslexic font. Character, word, and paragraph counts in conjunction with the Read Time feature make it easy for students and teachers to see their progress at a glance.

Whether students are working on listening and note-taking skills, writing blog posts, gathering research, or writing formal essays, Bear provides a platform that can be as simple or as complex as users choose. Features that use code without you having to know specific coding symbols make some of the more common commands feel like second nature as users become accustomed to the tool. For more tactile learners, quick access to both the touch and draw features add functionality without the complexity and distractions that some multifeatured writing apps can bring. While the sync features, additional export options, and themes that come with the Pro version are nice to have, the app is quite functional without them, and teachers should feel confident in Bear's efficacy when bringing it into the classroom.

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

In-note features that allow users to add, edit, highlight, and link content in multiple ways will keep users engaged in their writing projects.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Although predominantly a tool for productivity, with some imagination teachers can use Bear to design creative writing assignments, encourage peer editing, and model writing as a tool for a variety of tasks.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

The ease of use and intuitive design goes a long way to help users make the most of Bear, but for extra support, users can access FAQs, tutorials, social media, and blog posts -- created in Bear, of course. 


Common Sense Reviewer
Marianne Rogowski Media specialist/librarian

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