Spreadsheets have a wide variety of classroom uses. They may be more useful than many teachers realize. While many teachers may use spreadsheets for their own purposes (gradebooks, assessment tools, etc.), the reality is that spreadsheets and data bases can be just as useful for our students. Teacher use of spreadsheets serves many purposes including sorting data, identifying trends, and saving time. Couldn’t our students use speadsheets for the very same purposes? Yes, it requires instructional time to teach students how to input data and how to create formulas, but it may be time well spent if, in the end, it saves time.
Last week, I observed a lesson in a primary grades classroom. Although I entered the classroom quite some time after the lesson had begun, I did instantly realize that students were students were using bar graphs and pie charts to record data about color preferences. In my nearly 30 minutes in the classroom, almost all of the time was spent coloring in the pie charts and graphs. How powerful it would have been to have seen the teacher use a chart in spreadsheet to show the students how the pie chart would change if the numbers were different!
Spreadsheets have many applications in a math classroom, but I have found that spreadsheets can be applied in the humanities as well. There is no doubt that trends and patterns in human behavior can be tracked numerically and sorted in meaningful ways. Some studies suggest that the use of spreadsheets in classrooms can improve critical thinking skills. It has been argued that building spreadsheets can improve abstract reasoning. When students build and create spreadsheets they are given more opportunities to explore open ended investigations, problem oriented activities, and active learning.
The more teachers can find ways to implement spreasheets into their instruction, the more students will be able to manipulate numbers, see powerful visuals, and explore trends and patterns among numbers.
Baker, John and Sugden, Stephen J. (2007) “Spreadsheets in Education –The First 25 Years,”Spreadsheets in Education (eJSiE): Vol. 1: Iss. 1, Article 2.
Available at: http://epublications.bond.edu.au/ejsie/vol1/iss1/2