Using Spreadsheets in Instruction

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What are Spreadsheets?

A spreadsheet is a table or grid that is used to organize information. Its name is derived from two parts: the word "spread" comes from a newspaper or magazine that is open and when the two pages are viewed as one. Since the first spreadsheets were not computerized or interactive, the rows and columns were drawn on oversized "sheets" of paper. These days, most spreadsheets are interactive.

Learning Theories that Guide the Use of Spreadsheets in Instruction

Spreadsheets rely on cognitivism as its many learning theory because...

Kolb's Theory of Experiential Learning is exhibited in the use of spreadsheets. In many cases, spreadsheets display the supporting data and calculations of a particular theory or concept. Many students need more than just reading a textbook and listening to a classroom lecture in order to truly understand the concepts. The abstract nature of some information makes understanding difficult for those who need to actively process the reasons behind the theory or concept. Creating a spreadsheet can assist students in understanding the rationale behind the overarching concept involved. Once the spreadsheet is created with all the necessary formulas in place, the student can "play" with the data to see which factors influence the data in a particular manner. In this way, spreadsheets can assist with a type of Experiential Learning in the classroom.

The use of spreadsheets also encourages students to be "interpreters, organizers, and designers of their personal knowledge" (Jonassen and Carr). While educators are becoming aware of the need for students to be stimulated in ways that will enhance their critical thinking skills, this task is easier said than done. With an emphasis on conceptual design and the relationship between various data, spreadsheet activities can assist teachers in the critical thinking activities in the classroom.

The Benefits of Using Spreadsheets in Instruction

Spreadsheets are very beneficial in education because they
  • Allow the student to see a visual representation of the data
  • Enable the student to manipulate the data and understand the underlying concept
  • Simplify the process of calculating statistical significance
  • Allow teachers to track grades and relevant class statistics

The Challenges of Using Spreadsheets in Instruction

Although spreadsheets can be very useful, some argue that they are used too often. The problem with this is that spreadsheets are often stretched beyond what they were intended to do. Another challenge is that many of these spreadsheets are incredibly complex and the advantages gained from the use of the spreadsheet must outweigh the time it takes to create and learn how the spreadsheet works.

Special Guidance for Using Spreadsheets in Instruction

For practice setting up and using an Excel spreadsheet, try this video, tutorial or this tour. If you have a particular spreadsheet in mind, check out this site - your spreadsheet may already be made! Do you want your spreadsheet to calculate formulas? If so, click here!

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Spreadsheet Links

Spreadsheet Humor (if that is possible)

Top-10 Signs That You Purchased a Bad Spreadsheet

external image wallet.gif10. A sticker on the box reads, Now Supports DOS 1.2
9. It is part of a software suite called "Office Schmoffice."
8. User testimonials on the box are written in Arabic.
7. The help file consists of three words: "Don't ask me."
6. The Setup diskette reads, "Disk 1 of 1".
5. The Setup routine displays "Another Sucker" as the default user name.
4. The user manual is scribbled on the back of an old envelope.
3. The technical support phone number is 555-1212.
2. The only way to get a hard copy of your work is to photograph the screen.
1. When you press F9, a message box tells you to dig out your calculator.

If Excel Were a Car...

  • It would crash two or three times per day for no apparent reason. The driver is often hurt, but the car itself receives no permanent damage. You'd just accept this fact, restart the car, and begin your trip again.external image crash.gif
  • Occasionally, your car would fail to restart after a crash, and you'd have to reinstall the engine. For some strange reason, you'd just accept this too.
  • You would be forced to buy a new model every 18 months, and your old model would have no resale value. Each new model would be bigger that the previous one, require more gas, and would operate differently. Furthermore, parts from the old car would not be interchangeable with the new car.
  • You could call a special phone number when you had a problem. The phone would be staffed by people who know less about your car than you do.
  • There would be a special Macintosh model, powered by the sun. However, it would only run on 5 percent of the roads and require different driving skills.
  • You would have to spend additional money to buy the operating manuals.
  • The oil, engine, gas and alternator warning lights would be replaced by a single warning light: "This car has performed an illegal operation."
  • Before engaging, the airbag system would display a message, "Are you sure?"
  • Every time you looked under the hood, an obnoxious cartoon character would appear and ask if you need help. No matter how many time you refused help, it would keep appearing.
  • A special feature would let you automatically record the route for a particular trip, so you could repeat the trip automatically later on. However, after repeating the trip you always end up at a different location.

A Few Riddles

Q. Why were spreadsheets invented?
A. In order to make word processors appear to be bug-free in comparison.

Q. Why did Microsoft develop Access?
A. To make Excel seem faster.

Q. What do spreadsheet developers use for birth control?
A. Their personalities.