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