Integrating Technology and Teaching

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Spreadsheets, Module #6

I have had extensive experience with a powerful tool, the spreadsheet, and now more than ever, thanks to the internet, teachers will find it very easy to incorporate spreadsheets into their lesson plans, regardless of the subject area, and regardless of the age of the student.

A couple of caveats are in order; in order to be successful, the teacher needs to make sure that what ever is asked of the student is easy enough to accomplish in a single sitting, and the corollary to that is the student needs to be given the time in a lab setting to get the job done. Having interrupted time in a classroom full of distractions or not enough access to a computer can severely limit the success of the endeavor.

Spreadsheets are marvelous tools that provide a structure to data, and provide formatting tools to present and manipulate the data, all in one little package. A common one is Excel, by Microsoft. Large corporations use the program to report financial data to the chief executives in a timely and easy to read way, that is quickly updateable. The data are almost always interconnected somehow, and may come form a number of different sources. The spreadsheet accommodates all the different sources of data, assembles it, and provides clarifying tools to make the information easier to understand. For example if I were to give you 12 months of daily sales information in numerical form, it would be hard for you to draw any quick conclusions. But if I then graphed the data by day, week or month, it would take you no time at all to determine that sales in June were roughly twice what they are in January, and that sales was cyclical.

As a student teacher who intends to specialize in career and technology studies, I am very supportive of any opportunity to incorporate technologies that make life easier, and can be used so effectively in a number of different ways.

Economic and Financial analysis are two areas that are taught in many different ways within the CTS program of studies.

One such site that I have used is from Harvard Business School. The link is at the side of this blog. Please experiment for yourself and discover how a spreadsheet can be used to explain the concepts of the double entry accounting system, and T accounts. Learning about balancing T accounts as a concept is made a lot easier if you remove the mundane and error prone task of adding and subtracting correctly.

The program also formats the output into an industry standard presentation that is consistent with generally accepted accounting standards, so it fits well with one of the key general learning objectives of the program: The student will gain skills which will prepare him/her for participation in a professional career or in further post secondary education.

The biggest issue facing the user is how to begin to use the tool. For that there are a number of websites that offer tutorials to get you started. In a very short time all schools and universities in Alberta will be linked by a government directed initiative called the Supernet. Most have computers available and all should have the latest version of Excel, but in a few classrooms where resources are limited that might not be the case. However the enterprising teacher can always find some way to get the students around a screen and allow them to work through a lesson or two.

Of the tutorials I have seen the ones I like use a teaching style similar to the online help you get from Microsoft directly. These sites come with pictures of the actual spreadsheet, and show which menu items you select to do what and give you clear examples of how to accomplish certain goals. Compusmart's tutorial is one of those, and the link is at the side bar.
The alternative method is to teach item by item what each menu contains and the thought process behind it. Internet for classrooms gives you an example of that. Try the link at the side bar.
Whatever you do, don’t get left behind. Try to incorporate spreadsheets into your lesson plans.


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