by Kathy Kuhl

When I speak at conventions on helping teens overcome struggles with writing, one piece of technology for folks with handwriting problems gets more oohs and ahhs than any other. Since it generates so much interest, I’ve decided to write about it.


Livescribe Smart Pen looks like a pen, but it is more. It has a microphone built in and a tiny video camera in the tip. It simultaneously records sound and handwriting, (or in my case, handscrawling). It only works on special paper with a zillion tiny, nearly invisible dots on each page, which helps the software track the pen’s movements.

Here's the Echo pen, which we own. Newer models can sync to the computer wirelessly; this one takes a mini-USB cable.

Here’s the Echo pen, which we own. Newer models can sync to the computer wirelessly; this one takes a mini-USB cable.

Imagine you’re sitting in class at community college or in homeschool co-op. You’re a bright student with handwriting problems, so you have trouble taking notes. You just write what you can, and the Smart pen records your notes in sync what the professor or teacher is saying. (There are several recording levels for different size rooms.)

Later, you can switch the pen to playback mode, touch the pen to any word or mark in your notes, and hear the  the audio play back from the moment when you wrote that word or mark.

But there’s an even more interesting feature: you can upload notes and audio to your computer. The newer pen models, Sky and Livescribe 3, connect wirelessly with your computer. Mine older model, the Echo, shown here, takes a mini-USB cable to connect to my laptop.

Either way, you can upload your notes, then search your notes, or click on any part of them with a mouse to play them back.

Even if you can’t write a word, you can draw stars, even drawings, or just lines as you listen in class. So if the professor said, “Next week’s test will cover blah, blah, and blah,” you could draw three lines for those three points, and touch that part of your notes later to play back that reminder of what to study.

Any downsides to this tool? I have found two. First, the pens retail for $120-$205, depending on which model you get. So it’s not for those who frequently lose things.

Second, it only works on special notebooks and paper, which you buy from Livescribe or retailers who carry the pen. I bought three 9×6 inch notebooks at the local Best Buy for about $24. My son and I thought it was worth it. (He’s used the pen at community college classes.)

Here’s a special offer. Livescribe will give you $20 off the price of any pen, and also send $20 to support Learn Differently, if you click here and purchase a pen. (Or you can buy one at some electronics stores or on my Amazon store.)

Have you tried a Livescribe SmartPen? How’d it work for you? Please comment below.

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