Relative Advantage of Using Spreadsheets and Databases in Education

Charts and graphs are an enigma in Mathematics Education.  I say this because from my experience I find them to be so self-explanatory that they need a lot of explanation. WHAT?!?!?!  Hence the mystery.  Most of us look at a chart or graph and think, “Okay, I know what this is telling me.”  It is obviously right there.  I mean it’s like writing “2 + 2 = 4” on the board and asking a student, “what is two plus two?”  But, not to the mind of the adolescent.  Many times as educators we forget it isn’t that easy.  Charts and graphs need to be explained thoroughly like any other lesson.  They need to be dissected and created by the students.  Spreadsheets help eliminate some of the issues with doing that.  A lot of students (I was one) are not extremely artistic.  And, if they are also perfectionists (like me), they can be frustrated when drawing charts and graphs.  They also are very time-consuming to make, not just for the students but, for the teacher.  Spreadsheets allow for almost anyone to make a high quality chart in a short period of time.

Spreadsheets, a tool many teachers might be familiar with for recording information about their students, might be more beneficial providing information for their students.  Here is a short list of other reasons to use spreadsheets in the mathematics classroom.

  • Spreadsheets allow for easy data manipulation and the resulting effects to be quickly seen (Roblyer & Doering, 2013).

  • They are very useful when dealing with perimeter, area and volume problems.

  • Other formulas, such as temperature conversion, can be demonstrated.

  • The concept of proportions is more readily understood.

  • Data analyzing (mean, median, mode) isn’t restricted in sample size.

  • Data collection isn’t limited to the size of the class.

  • Patterns can be expanded to find the 50,000th term (or more).

As with any tool, students will need to learn how to use spreadsheets (Roblyer & Doering, 2013).  While you can use already created templates allow for students to enter in data and gather results, spreadsheets support a student-centered learning environment by allowing students to create their own manipulations.  Much like students can not be handed a calculator and expected to know the correct procedure for entering in data, they need to learn how to format functions.  For many students, there is an added barrier from a fear of mathematics that must first be overcome (Roblyer & Doering, 2013).  Remind them that although mistakes will be made, this give rise to the opportunity to problem solve.

While I have made it seem like spreadsheets are primarily a tool for the mathematics classroom because they are primarily used with numerical data, spreadsheets are effective in other content areas (Roblyer & Doering, 2013).  Instead of losing precious time doing all the math, spreadsheets can accomplish that task and allow for exploration of the lesson. Here are some non-math class uses of spreadsheets.

How old are you on Neptune?  I like that this one still refers to NINE planets (Go Pluto!)

It’s ‘Element’ary


Climate Data Workbook

How Much Tax Would You Pay?


Roblyer, M. D., & Doering, A. H. (2013). Integrating educational technology into teaching (6th ed., New International ed.). Upper Saddle River: Pearson.


Roblyer and Doering (2013) discuss six types of software in their book, Integrating Educational Technology Into Teaching.  These six are:

  • Drill and Practice

  • Tutorial

  • Simulation

  • Instructional Games

  • Problem Solving

  • Integrated Learning Systems

I discuss the first five here.  I would like to take time to discuss Integrated Learning Systems (ILS).  ILSs are network or online systems of computer-based instruction that both track and report on student progress (Roblyer and Doering, 2013).  In my current position at the Pittsburgh Job Corps, I have been asked to evaluate several ILS programs to use with our students who are preparing to take the GED 2014 Test.  The GED Testing Service has several partners, listed here.  So far, I have been in contact with three sites and received information on the services they provide.

While the specific details of each ILS are different, with respect to their GED 2014 Test preparation, they have some common basic features.  ILS programs can easily be individualized for each students.  Generally, when a student begins an ILS course, they will take a diagnostic test that determines which specific areas require remediation.  As students progress, the programs will adapt the difficulty level up or down depending upon student performance.  Teachers will receive reports on student performance and can even be alert when a student needs intervention.

While it is generally recommend that ILS be a supplemental teaching method to an entire program in  order to be most effective (Roblyer and Doering, 2013), we would probably utilize them as the primary method.  Our students have already attended traditional schools and been unsuccessful.  However, this does not mean that lack the knowledge to pass the GED test.  Under the previous version of the GED Test, we had students who were capable of passing without any preparation, those who needed some preparation and students who required expansive tutoring.  With the change of the GED 2014 Test to a computer-only test, there will be fewer students in the first grouping and more in the other two.  These students’ ability will span a vast range.  Therefore, in order to keep them motivated, specialized training is needed to prevent from going too slow or too fast and move at just the right speed for each student.  Plus, by becoming more comfortable with learning on the computer, the students will be on familiar ground when they take the GED 2014 Test.

Does this mean that teachers become unnecessary?  Quite the contrary, I believe. Teachers will be more important.  Students will struggle with learning some concepts with the ILS just as they did in the traditional classroom.  Since the teacher will be aware more often and quicker of these deficiencies, they will have to be ready to interceded and help the students overcome obstacles.  They will have to be capable of switching gears and go from one lesson to another (possibly, in a completely different discipline) at a moments notice.


Baker, Mark. (1997). Integrated learning systems – An introduction. Retrieved from

Roblyer, M. D., & Doering, A. H. (2013). Integrating educational technology into teaching (6th ed., New International ed.). Upper Saddle River: Pearson.

Principles of Effective Online Instruction

  • What does good online instruction look like?

In the traditional classroom, one expects to find the teacher leading the class by presenting the information, asking the questions and guiding the students’ practice.  Everything flows from the teacher.  They are like dad, who plans the family vacation, does all the driving and decides when to go home.  In the online classroom, the teacher provides the destination, but it is the students who decide what roads to take and what sites to see when they get there.  In an online course, the students have goals and objectives set by the teacher, but they reach those goals and objectives by their own means.

This does not mean that the student is left to his/her own accords to learn.  Online instruction involves collaboration, mainly among the students.  By collaborating together, the students build a learning community allows them to not just learn information for the purpose of testing, but fully understand it for the purpose of utilizing it later in their education and their life.  Other collaborations include teacher-student (in the form of feedback), teacher-parent (conferences) and, hopefully, parents will interact more with the student about what the are learning.

  • Does it look the same for all grade levels and content areas?

Obviously, a first-grade class and a twelfth-grade class will look different, as will an English course and a Mathematics course.  The types of projects, the online learning tools used and the amount and content of material presented will all be different.  However, behind all of this, the foundations of the classes involving the aforementioned student self-directness, goals, objectives, collaborations and feedback will be present in all forms of online instruction.

  • Will effective face-to-face teachers be effective online teachers?

When I thought about this question, I remember Rice’s (2012) phrase, “Good teaching is good teaching.”  I went back and reviewed this section.  She talks about how a face-to-face instructor can sometimes just “wing it”, but in the online environment, careful preparation is required.  I remember thinking the first time I read this section, “Great.  Winging it is my lesson plan.”   My winging it comes from knowing the material and thus forming the concept of instruction beforehand; a premeditated winging.  I need to harness the creativity I use when presenting my lessons live and apply it to the development of those lessons for the online environment.

Below are seven principles of effective online education that I have gathered:

  1. Online instruction is learner-centered.

The traditional classroom is teacher-centered (all information flows from the teacher).  In the online classroom, Lecture-based learning is impractical (NEA).  Instead, the course must be learner-centered.  In a learner-centered classroom, student takes an active role in learning (iNACOL, 2011) and instruction is about learning based upon goals important to the student (Roce, 2012).

  1. Online instruction begins with setting course goals and objectives.

Goals and objectives are the foundation upon which the course is built.  They clearly state what the student will know or be capable of doing (iNACOL, 2011).  Essentially, these goals are a contract between teacher and student on what is taught and learned (Ragan, 1999).  They are reached via the use of the proper instructional strategies (Rice, 2012).  Every aspect of the course should be developed in order to facilitate the students achieving these goals.

  1. Online instruction evaluation is based upon measurement and assessment of learning goals.

Determining whether students have successfully met the goals and objectives can not be accomplished from just the standard testing practice of the traditional classroom.  Assessments should be both formative (informing) and summative (demonstrate mastery) (iNACOL, 2011).  In the online classroom, these assessments are important because of the lack of face-to-face interaction between teacher and student (Ragan 1999).  The assessments should consider different learning styles (NEA).  Rice (2012) says that the online environment demands performance-based assessments upon task completion in order to demonstrate and apply understanding.  These assessments become a valuable tool in providing feedback to the students.

  1. Online instructional tools should be selected to support the learning goals.

The nature of online instruction lends itself to the availability of many tools to enhance the learning of the students.  Teachers should be able to use a variety of instructional tools (NEA), however, at any given time, one or two carefully chosen tools will be better than a haphazard arrangement of many tools (Rice, 2012).  The selected tools need to be accessible to the students (Ragan, 1999).  There are tools for all elements of the online course.  They are used for instruction, assessment and feedback (iNACOL).  They also provide unintended assistance.  Proper technology usage can also promote the behaviors you want (Rice, 2012).

  1. Online instruction involves collaboration among students.

Another difference between the traditional and the online classroom is in how much learning is acquired through groups collaborating.  Online instruction lends itself immensely to collaboration through the building of communities.  The instructional tools support the collaborative activities (Ragan, 1999), but it is the online teacher who must foster collaboration (NEA).  In order to provide incentive, students should be graded on participation and interaction (Rice, 2012).

  1. Online instruction is time flexible with deadlines.

The very nature of online instruction creates an environment where student can (and sometimes must) have access 24/7.  However, there must be structure to the course and students must be capable of completing assignments in a timely manner.  When lessons are provided ahead of schedule with benchmark due dates, students can pace themselves (Rice, 2012).

  1. Online instruction incorporates higher-order thinking skills.

For learning to be authentic, it must go beyond knowledge and comprehension.  The act of learning is as important as the information that is learned.  It is a skill that will serve the students throughout their life.  To accomplish this, learning must travel gambit of Bloom’s Taxonomy.  Rice (2012) states that students should engage in synthesis, analysis and evaluation and not just factual recall.  Therefore, assignments, activities and assessments should all require higher-order thinking skills (iNACOL).

International Association for K-12 Online Learning. (2011). National standards for quality online teaching. Retrieved from

National Education Association. (n/a). Guide to teaching online courses. Retrieved from

Ragan, Lawrence C.  (1999).  Good Teaching Is Good Teaching:  An Emerging Set of Guiding Principles and Practices for the Design and Development of Distance Education. CAUSE/EFFECT Journal, 22(1).  Retrieved from

Rice, Kerry.  (2012).  Making the Move to K-12 Online Teaching.  Upper Saddle Ridge, New Jersey:  Pearson Education, Inc.

EDTECH 521 Reflection Journal

Here is a link to my EDTECH 521 Reflection Journal.  It will be updated weekly, so you can come back to this thread to view it.

Copyright and Fair Use

I write this after watching an episode of “Cake Boss” where they made a Dr. Seuss cake for an elementary school’s reading program.  I wondered about the fair use principle of the decorations.  They incorporated many of the characters from popular Dr. Seuss books.  My thought (even though I am neither a lawyer nor did I sleep at a Holiday Inn Express last night) is that they satisfy the four principles of fair use.

One of the things I left off my site was a video.  I had found a couple of videos to consider, but I didn’t want to violate copyright laws, so I did not use them.  I could not find permission on the sites and I did not have the time to contact the owners.  However, Dr. Hung suggested that one thing to consider with respect to my portfolio is to update pages with new techniques as I learn them.  I plan on doing this after this course is over.  Then I can seek permission to use videos and add them to my page.

Accessibility on the Web

This lesson was about accessibility of web-pages.  I chose the screen reader tool because my wife has some vision issues.  While she can still read, she has to enlarge the text quite a bit.  The screen reader might be something for her to consider.

In this lesson, the key elements to learn involved adding absolute links, formatting them and putting in anchors to jump around on the page.  As always, I thought the text itself was going to be the most difficult part.  Once I got started, it went smoothly.  The formatting of the text is where I had 3 minor errors.

1.  I put in <p> tags before my <h2> tags.  Don’t do this.

2.  I forgot to put quotes around my id names.  Don’t do this either.

3.  I had a missing </p> tag to close out a paragraph.  Especially don’t do this.

I was able to find all of these mistakes thanks to the validator and the sample pages.  The validator led me to the lines I had with errors.  I couldn’t always see what I was missing.  By looking at the sample, I could see what they had that I didn’t (or didn’t have that I did).  This allowed me to fix my errors.

I am getting more and more comfortable with the Dreamweaver software.  I’m getting more comfortable with my text.  I hope the rest of the semester goes as well.

Typography on the Web

This project linked a page to our website.  Click on the Netiquette page link and you can see the page I created.

The first thing I did was to search on Netiquette rules to get an idea of things to include.  I decided I wanted NETIQUETTE to be an acronym to help readers remember these rules.  Thus, I chose 10 rules that could be represented by each letter in the word.  Some were quite easy, while others required a little ingenuity.  Afterwards, I then just wrote what each of the 10 rules meant.  The last thing, was to work on the formatting for the page.

Once again, Dr. Snelson’s videos were extremely helpful.  I could not get my callout box to correctly float to the right.  I also ran into the problem of my footer moving to the top of the page.  No matter what I tried, nothing worked.  Then, I remember there was a video on fixing problems.  Good thing, cause I don’t think I ever would have figured it out on my own.  How did the first person who did figure it out do so?  Like the number of licks in a Tootsie Roll Tootsie Pop, the world may never know.

As I move forward, I am sensing, while we will be learning a lot more about Dreamweaver, the page formatting will be the easiest part.  I think what will be the toughest part for me is to determine what actual information to put on the page.  Once I can figure that out, the modules tend to guide themselves.  Oh, and let’s not forget all the reading!