Spreadsheets are powerful tools! In fact, spreadsheets became a "killer application" in the 1980s because they were so useful that people were finally willing to buy the computers to run them on. With computerization, spreadsheets are no longer just ledgers to track money; they can be used for all kinds of exciting things! Microsoft Excel is number one spreadsheet application for desktop computers. On Palm OS computers, there's Sheets To Go (part of Dataviz's Documents To Go). On Pocket PC computers there's Excel Mobile (or, on older handhelds, Pocket Excel). Note that you must upgrade to the premium version of Documents To Go to make graphs on the handheld. Excel Mobile has free graphing abilities while Pocket Excel does not. However, even without graphing, there are great uses for spreadsheets.
And why use spreadsheets with students?
- Organize and visualize data.
- Spreadsheets are completely programmable.
- More realistic problem-solving.
- Focus on results and implications rather than calculations.
- Engage & motivate students.
Chart spreadsheets organize information into chart form. Some examples include charting answers to survey questions, tracking the altitude and direction of the sun, organizing colors of candies, and displaying the relationship between circumference and diameter. Of course, some charts will include simple calculations.
Spreadsheets that perform calculations, simple or complex, can be useful tools for students. What works out great is when students make their own spreadsheets and then use them to try different calculations. For example, after making a spreadsheet to calculate the area of a rectangle, see what happens when you double the length and the width of a rectangle. A fun spreadsheet to create and use is finding the cost of pizza per square inch. Spreadsheets that calculate surface area can really save students time crunching numbers because of the amount of multiplication and adding that's involved. And, although there are plenty of computer programs out there to do this for you, try having students create a spreadsheet to calculate age and weight on other planets.
Kinds of spreadsheet many folks don't know about are self-checking sheets. This is a spreadsheet where a clue is given and then a word is entered in the cell next to the clue. The spreadsheet indicates if the clue is correct or not. This is done by using "if" statements in the cells that display if the answer is right or wrong. The answers are actually hidden in a column so that students can't see them while they practice. In these kinds of spreadsheets, spelling is important. In fact, I shared an example of a self-checking sheet for homophones. I also have a self-checking sheet for answering math problems that follow the order of operations (remember, Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally). I also made a blank self-checking sheet so that it's easy to fill in weekly spelling words, different math problems, or vocabulary words into a new self-checking sheet.
You can download the spreadsheets from my presentations in Excel form or in a form ready to be installed into Documents To Go. You can learn more about great ways to use Excel at The ABC's to Excel site. Most of the creative uses for Excel can be transferred to Sheets To Go and Excel Mobile. I bet you never thought that tiny spreadsheets could be used in so many ways!