Spreadsheets in Math Class

Spreadsheets have long been the workplace columnar pad for mathematical function. Accounting, inventory, and general organizing and analysis of data are a part of the corporate record keeping system, regardless of industry. In the technological society of today, computer and software skills are an integral part of any business, and the use of spreadsheets in the math classroom prepares students to enter tomorrow's workforce adept in their use.

NCTM's Endorsement of Technology in the Classroom

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) announced their endorsement of utilizing spreadsheets and computer technology in K-12 classrooms and continuing education for teachers in 2000, and provides multi-faceted ideas for implementing them into the curriculum. Educators are encouraged to attend courses or accredited online schools which focus on the modern computer technology and its relevance in the classroom.

What is a Spreadsheet?

To the unskilled computer user, a spreadsheet is nothing more than a glorified table to record data. In fact, spreadsheet software capability has come a long way since its inception in the 1970s. Basic functions such as adding, subtracting, dividing, and multiplying are only the elementary aspects for which they can be used. With complex algebraic functions available, spreadsheets help mathematicians, scientists, engineers, and many other career fields compute, discover, analyze, and create-all with the aid of a spreadsheet.

Any business entity, small or large, needs to track estimates, invoices, jobs, and financial data. Even industry specific software has its basis on the spreadsheet premise. A fashion designer numbers his many creations and inputs them into a spreadsheet. Initial columns may include date of design, number of design, description of design, and customer or consumer information. As more data is needed, additional columns and rows can be added to accommodate the growing database of the designer. This information can then be sorted or analyzed into graphs, reports, and even financial returns on the profitability of the business.

Spreadsheets have long been the workplace columnar pad for mathematical function. Accounting, inventory, and general organizing and analysis of data are a part of the corporate record keeping system, regardless of industry. In the technological society of today, computer and software skills are an integral part of any business, and the use of spreadsheets in the math classroom prepares students to enter tomorrow's workforce adept in their use.

What type of information can be inserted into spreadsheet cells?

The type of data that can be inserted into cells (the individual areas comprising the rows and columns of a spreadsheet) includes text and labels, numbers such as money, dates, times, and mathematical statements called formulas. A formula is simply a logical statement or query, which uses other cells, rows, or columns in the spreadsheet, to arrive at a formulated fact. An example is to list all of a company's product offerings, row-by-row, and include columns which allow for input of all the information relative to each offering. Since pricing is one column that can fluctuate often, this variable can be formulated to allow for ease in recording price increases or decreases without going through each and every item and changing its price point. Say for instance, a rain gutter company sets up its products in a spreadsheet and knows its markup to include labor is always at 65% of cost, then price per item can be input as a formula to "look up" the price index (located somewhere else in the spreadsheet) and calculate the gutter company's current markup, add it to the base cost, and present that current cost to the consumer in the price column for each product. Then as suppliers raise costs, the look-up table is the only area in which changes must be input. The rest of the company inventory retail price will adjust accordingly.

Real World Applications

Real world application of spreadsheets can be seen in the many uses for spreadsheets both in the business world as well as in the home. With the prevalence of distance learning and increasing computer technology, even seasoned veterans are encouraged to continue their education in the use of spreadsheet programs, as they continue to evolve to the most complex of formulaic calculators known to date.

Additional Resources:

  • LT Technologies - uses the NCTM standards in their many lesson plans. Incorporating spreadsheets, students use real world scenarios to create and utilize a spreadsheet for the lesson. Links are categorized by subject and grade level.
  • Microsoft - has an education section of their website devoted to helping teachers and students employ the use of spreadsheets. Lesson plans are available for K-12 and beyond, as well as visual tutorials for learning the software application, Excel.
  • Classrooms that Excel - an extensive website offering spreadsheet tutorials, lesson plans, discussions, articles, Excel guides, webquests, and formula how-to's for early elementary through high school.
  • Aberdeen's Benchmark - this report (October 2008) recaps the benefits of data analysis, access, and quality in the workplace. The webcast is geared toward business owners, managers, executives, and users for incorporating spreadsheets into company productivity and encourages assessment of their use in business, develop awareness of their role in organizational decision-making, and consider the risks of uncontrolled spreadsheet usage.
  • World Web Dynamics - has a complete course for teachers to implement spreadsheet usage in a laboratory setting incorporating matrices, matrix multiplication and addition, and geometric transformation. All associated worksheets, quizzes, and handouts are available on the site for printing.
  • Excel Modeling & Estimation - a book and CD set, written by Craig W. Holden, Associate Professor, Indiana University. Covers the world of corporate finance and how most organizations still rely on calculators and pre-generated spreadsheets, rather than creating, monitoring, and analyzing the company data within custom spreadsheets. Excellent resource for teaching and learning the creation and use of spreadsheets in the modern world.
  • Lifelong Learning - offers teachers an array of activities to learn and understand the value of spreadsheet use in the science and math classrooms. Lists of activities from K-12 are grouped by general, elementary, middle school, and high school.
  • Everyday Spreadsheets in the Classroom - is a website for both students and teachers. Divided under the two headings of teacher utilities and student lessons, this award-winning presentation garnered much attention from educators seeking to employ technology in their classes. The New Jersey Association for Educational Technology (NJAET) offers free membership and works with educators, students, computer administrators, software vendors, and computer companies. Their goal is to keep each of these apprised of technological advances and educational needs throughout the United States.
  • Integrating Spreadsheets in the Classroom - is an excellent resource for educators offering lessons plans, assessment rubrics, webquests, tutorials and guides, and real-time data links which allow students to assume research roles and create their own connections.
  • Everything Spreadsheets - offers free printables, lesson plans, and interactive spreadsheet tools on the internet.

Published: 2010-01-20