Excel In the Classroom
What's All the Hype?
Seen by many as the industry standard for data analysis, including graphing and producing tables, Microsoft's Excel is a wonderful application that can be used to achieve student learning outcomes. As educators start to understand the usefulness of such applications, we predict that a great number of staff will not only ask for training and support on these types of applications, but demand it.
The transparent, yet under lying fact is that mathematicians are begging for us to realize that simple data collection is not a viable life skill without the ability to analyze the data. Applications like Excel's ability to help you quickly organize and create graphical representations of data for easier analysis is becoming a dominate force not only in the educational arena, but in the corporate world.
It's no wonder why many educators from all levels are fast learning that applications like Excel not only need to be introduced in a students' K-12 program, but it need to be introduced early and revisited often to reinforce the skills associated with such applications. Yet, many educators seem to be intimated by the level of understanding and competence required to effectively use applications like Excel in their teaching. In fact, many of our staff developers are often told by the educators who they work with, "If I don't understand it, do you think that my students will?" While this statement is no doubt true, we encourage teachers to think of using technology, in this case applications like Excel, as they would any other tool in teaching. As with anything newly learned, it takes time to develop a new skill.
For the purpose of this tutorial, we'll look at the pros and cons of using Microsoft Excel as an application with your students. We'll also examine some methods for strengthening your Excel skills. We chose Microsoft Excel because it is the most widely known and probably the most commonly used application.
What's Good About It?
- Using Excel can enhance understanding of content within a grahic presentation of the information; it provides a visual representation of data that makes it easier to analyze.
- Excel reduces the difficulty of plotting data and allows students a means for interpreting the data.
- You can also reverse the traditional process of analyzing data by giving students a completed chart and see if they can reconstruct the underlying worksheet. This goes a long way toward helping them understand the relationship between the data and the chart.
- Excel can easily convert any chart or data set into a web page, making it very easy to share information among groups. Many universities are using this model for data sharing between students who aren't even on the same continent.
- Excel's ability to dynamically generate charts and graphs in seconds makes it easy to quickly demonstrate relationships between numbers.
- As a teaching tool, students can see how different types of graphs and charts can be used to represent the same series of data. As one teacher stated, "For years it took me three to five days to teach kids the use a pie chart, bar graph, and/or a line graph to accurately represent information. Now with Excel, it makes it so much easier because the kids are far more motivated to use the application to manipulate data and to chart any information."
- One of the best things is that you can compare data between any two or more variables. Using storage devices (disks), you can store data and use it to conduct a comparative analysis of any information that you have collected over time. For example, you can compare data collected by a group of collaborating teachers within one school, one county, or around the world.
What's Bad About It?
- Many students have little prior Excel experience and for that matter, any application similar to Excel. We think it is essential to include Excel into a K-12 program in such a way that no one grade level/ subject area is solely responsible for introducing students to Excel. It would be good to start using the basic functions of this program with kids, as early as third grade (or earlier depending on a child's cognitive ability).
- Excel makes data analysis so easy that some students may think that they came to their conclusions too quickly without taking enough time to thoroughly check everything fpr accuracy and reliablitiy.
- Students find it easier to crunch numbers in Excel. This can lead to students just thinking that their job is complete when they haven't even scratched the surface of what needs to be done.
- As any math teacher will tell you, there are multiple ways to do just about any problem. The same holds true with Excel, there are many ways to do just about everything. This can be overwhelming for students who need less choices when making decisions on how to represent data.
- The function formulas are hidden when using Excel, and it may make it difficult to check student work.
What No One Tells You
- Excel can easily make your spreadsheets into web pages. In fact, many university students use this feature of Excel to share projects with other students.
- Excel macro applications (a series of commands grouped together to automate a complex series of tasks) are virus prone. We often use macro commands when using advanced uses of Excel. In fact, Virus Alert attributes 17% of all viruses worldwide to be contracted by Microsoft Word and Excel macros.
- Microsoft has made available a free Excel viewer that allows you to to view, copy, zoom, and print Microsoft Excel 97 and Microsoft Excel 2000 files. You can find download an area by visiting www.microsoft.com and type "Excel Viewer" into their search engine.
- Most schools purchase lesser-known spreadsheet software for their staff and students due to cost. If you look into it, Microsoft actually gives academic institutions, that buy multiple copies of Excel, a reduced price. When buying 25 or more copies, Excel could actually cost your organization the same, if not less, than other spreadsheet packages.
The Bottom Line
There is no doubt about it, used proactively, applications like Microsoft's Excel can enhance a learning environment. It can help students look past crunching numbers and really start to interpret data.
Once you start your voyage in learning and using these types of applications in your teaching, don't forget to look back and ask yourself: "Is this making me a better teacher?" Technology is a lot of things, but it shouldn't take the place of well-polished, traditional methods of teaching and learning. It is meant to enhance teaching and learning.
Below you will find a number of sites that can help you learn the basic use of Excel:
1. CNET's Beginners Center-
2. Excel Help for Beginners-
Basic information for beginning Excel users.