If you read the first Totally Awesome Things to do with Spreadsheets in the Classroom post, you’ll know that I’m a little obsessed with spreadsheets right now because I made the lowest grade of my life on a recent grad school assignment involving spreadsheets.
As I do more research, I’m beginning to see how versatile spreadsheets can be, and how, as teachers, it would be very beneficial to our students to use them in regular classroom activities. By using formulas, students are able to show their procedural knowledge. Through database creation, students are taken through the research process and can then use sorting and filtering to find what they need quickly. Spreadsheets have the ability to instantly take data that we have input and create charts and graphs, which will help students understand how information can be shared visually. Even young students can use spreadsheets! Go ahead and set up your input columns and headings, and insert a chart. As students (either individually or as a class) enter data that they’ve collected, the charts are automatically updated! How cool! Continue reading below for some specific activities and links that incorporate spreadsheets into classroom activities. I have included two activities for elementary, middle, and high school. Read what applies to you, or read all of them and adapt the activities to your needs!
Create timelines: To help students get used to typing in boxes (cells) rather than straight across a line, using spreadsheets to create timelines is a great activity. In the lower grades, I’d go ahead and have a template set up, but in the upper elementary, I’d let the kids play around with setting borders around boxes, hiding rows and columns that they don’t need after they’ve sent up their timeline, etc. Here’s a sample timeline template for you to use (Google Spreadsheet).
Making Decisions: Before having your students collect or input data, go ahead and set up the spreadsheet and charts like I said before. Set up several different spreadsheets for the same data, but have each spreadsheet generate a different chart. In groups, have students input the same data and examine the charts. As a class, discuss what each chart shows and then decide which chart was the best for displaying the data. You’ll want them to recognize that line graphs are best for showing change over time, bar charts are best for showing comparisons, and pie charts are best for showing percentages or parts of a whole. Although I listed this under elementary, this would be a great activity for middle and high school as well since you’ll be asking the students to justify their decisions.
Exploring Weight and Age on Other Planets: In small groups, have students research how our weight and age are different on other planets. Set up a shared spreadsheet (Google), and have the students set the formulas for what age and weight would be on other planets. Some students may not feel comfortable putting in their actual weight, so you could set the fill color to the same color as the text to “hide” their original weight. Have students draw conclusions about effects of planet mass and diameter on gravity and weight, and rotation and revolution periods on age. As a challenge, you could have students try to write the formulas for comparing weight and age on planets not starting with their Earth weight and age. I did this activity one year with my third graders, but I had already set up the template. They loved seeing how their weight changed on the various planets. BTW, Pluto was still a planet then. 🙂 Speaking of, here’s a sample template that you could use. I used the information from this article from LiveScience.com, and this website to help set up the template.
Budget Planning: Financial literacy is becoming more and more important for our students. If you’ve read the About Me page, you’ll know that my husband and I are working Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps to financial freedom. We are always saying, “I wish I knew this before I graduated high school!” I love scenario-based learning, and if I were a middle or high school teacher, I’d definitely have my students go through the scenario of planning a budget based on a specific set of criteria (monthly take home salary, cell phone bill, cable bill, groceries, car payment, house payment/rent, utilities, etc.). Having students set up a simple spreadsheet where they can set up a subtraction formula would be a great way to show them how quickly money can disappear each month. Challenge them to make decisions about sacrifices they may have to make. Ask questions like, “How would you budget be different if you were supporting kids?”, “Last month, your spouse lost their job, so now your monthly budget is __________. What adjustments are you going to have to make?” You can find budget templates all over the Internet, but in middle and high school, I’d definitely have the students set up the spreadsheets themselves. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Here’s a blank template of the one my husband and I use each month.
What is Average? Read the short story, Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut, with your students. It’s about a dystopian society where people are forced to wear “handicaps” in order for everyone to be equal. AWESOME story. You can even register at Izzit.org and get a free DVD of 2081, the movie version of this story. Have students brainstorm various characteristics that they’d like to find the “average” for in their classroom. Some characteristics could include height, weight, a rank for mental ability, a rank for athletic ability, etc. Create a class spreadsheet with each student’s data, then use the AVERAGE formula, filtering, and sorting to find a class “average” of each characteristic. Discuss what handicaps would be necessary for certain students/characteristics. Have students create an illustration of themselves with their handicaps.
Doctors as Detectives: This lesson activity was actually created by the Learning Times people at the New York Times. In the activity, students read an article from the Times about how doctors sometimes serve as detectives when it comes to infectious diseases. Students then research a particular disease and input data about it into a shared database (Google spreadsheet). Here’s a spreadsheet template with the fields recommended by the lesson developers. After students have filled in their database information, they write a short story like they are a patient suffering from the disease they researched. They’ll swap stories with a partner, and then the students will have to use the information in the database to try to diagnose their partner. Here is a link to the lesson plan. This one really sounds like fun!
I hope that some of these activities and spreadsheet templates are useful to you in some way. I also am hopeful that some of these activities gave you ideas of your own about how you can utilize spreadsheets in your classroom. If so, please share those ideas with us in the comments below. Thanks so much for reading!