Spreadsheets for Everyone - Digital Literacy Dover

Saturday 2 June 2018

Spreadsheets for Everyone

Spreadsheets rock my world.

Spreadsheets are, at least in my experience, probably the least appreciated of the five core domains of ICT, unappreciated at least by people who have never used them. But, once you get a glimpse into the sheer mathematical beauty of the way these sheets of interconnecting cells, rows and grids can empower mere mortals to manipulate screeds of data like magnificent mathematical machines, well, you won't look back.  The ways that modern spreadsheets help people organise data from the miniscule to the massive, and free us to focus on the meaning of the numbers as opposed to the mere mechanics, is nothing short of transformational. 

5 core domains: Text, Image, Audio,  Video and Data - which ones are you weakest in?

And yet many, if not most educators languish in lethargic reticence; whether it's apathy or antipathy, who can say? What I do know is that the with the developments in terms of sheer processing power and refinement of control interfaces, the information and data management tools that used to be extremely complex operations, the purview of financial professionals only, are now suitable for anyone with or without a mathematical background. Spreadsheet applications like Numbers and Google Sheets have made it easier for the ordinary user, even kids as young as Grade 2 (Year 3) and below to manipulate, edit, and share the data stored in spreadsheets, using different functions and computations.

And no, it's not just about graphing. You can do that in a Word Processor or a Presentation tool. No. Spreadsheets are all about manipulating and managing data.

For examples of how I've used spreadsheets with kids as young as Grade 2, see this post. If you are a total spreadsheet noob and need to start from zero... read on.

So you feel like a novice when it comes to spreadsheets? Well it only takes 10 minutes to fix. Here is a labsite lesson I ran for our Grade 4 teachers, to get them from spreadsheet zeroes to spreadsheet heroes in one lesson. The whole thing is available below, in it's entirety (40 minutes) or in convenient bite sized attention deficit sized morsels below. You only need to know about 'Functions & Formulae' to get started.

The entire lesson took 40 minutes, here it is in sections:

Spreadsheet skill review:

Review cell address, and ranges of cells, eg: A1:B6

Functions & Formulae 

Review adding the contents of cells, by by using the SUM function and by writing a formula, eg A2+B3.

Critical to the 21st Century classroom model, is ensuring that you as the teacher are NOT a prerequisite for success. Students need to be empowered to resolve their own challenges. The sooner you establish this as 'normal' practice, the easier it will be.

The students should not 'need' you to learn.

This section is purely concerned with the appearance of the spreadsheet. No Maths required, resizing columns and rows, adding text,. and outlines.

Students build a framework within with they can insert relevant data.

Now that the framework is ready, this section guides students through 'telling' the spreadsheet what kind of data will be entered into certain cells.

IMPORTANT: In a spreadsheet you cannot just add a $ sign to indicate currency, symbols like these actually contain 'functionality' in a spreadsheet, so in short, nothing will work.

Instead if you writing dollar signs, let the spreadsheet do that FOR you, by telling it to format certain cells as currency.

This feature as other uses as well, for example making certain cells display percentages. You cannot do this by just adding a % sign.

Students enter specific data that need to be totalled using the SUM function.

As more information is entered, the total at the bottom of the sheet should automatically update, this allows students to begin 'modelling' 'What if?' scenarios:

What if we buy 15 of those?

Then students can write a subtraction formula to subtract the $20 that they were initially loaned from their overall total.

Student's that finish early, should be used as 'quality control' ie checking on their peers to make sure that they are finished properly, and that their sheets are working properly.



This section is an 'extension' section.

This means that the spreadsheet will do what they need, but these features will make it even better... IN particular enabling more effective 'modelling'.

  • Inserting additional columns to allow better management of multiple quantities.
  • Refining the use of formulae to add and subtract
  • Creating a 'ripple' effect whereby cells reference other cells
  • Using conditional formatting to change the colour of a cell when the value changes.

Students will need time to 'play' with these interrelated features, in order to get to a point where the logical sequencing of calculations makes sense.

They may also use ways to get it working which are not the same as yours... it may even be better...

Google's Applied Digital Skills 

Google have created an entire curriculum devoted to skills acquisition, totally supported with video tutorials, that can lead you thorough lessons, step by step. The skills span the entire Google Apps Suite, but the Sheets focused lessons are particularly well designed. 

A great example is this lesson on budgeting to make better financial decisions: 

Junior School Sheet Activities

Our Maths Coach has created the following website to collate some of the core activities we use to integrate the effective use of spreadsheets into Junior School Maths lessons: 

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