Is there a way to add a small notes section at the bottom of the "Normal" layout in Impress?

It would be more convenient and accessible than the “Notes” template for taking notes in class.

Add a text box? The scroll bar allows positioning of objects outside the boundary of a slide e.g.,

thanks for the response; however, it is a bit of a hassle when the powerpoint lecture is written in white on a colored background. Inserting a new text box on each slide simply reverts back to the white text color (becomes a little annoying having to change the color every time I add a text box)

@newtolinux, try creating a Master Page (master slide) with the text box pre-defined and positioned / formatted as required and then create new slides based on this Master Page definition. Refer pp.34-44 of the Impress User Guide v4.0.