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Excel In the Classroom
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
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
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.
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
- 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
- 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.
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.
3. All Experts Excel Q&A- Volunteer experts answer online and emailed
questions about Excel. Free.
Picturebook visual Articles for Microsoft Excel and other applications,
free and for fee.