Excel in the Curriculum


I want to address the program Microsoft Excel (and other similar chart and plotting software, such as OpenOffice and Google Docs Spreadsheet). It seems to me that the benefits of Excel are often overlooked or simply not well-understood by many students and people in general. Many look at it and see only a means by which to make lists or charts, but the mathematical applications of Excel are excellent for mass data sorting, manipulation, and calculations. When dealing with high level mathematics or even the analysis of data in the sciences (like finding precipitate from masses of chemicals or measuring the distance and time measurements of a cart when rolling down a hill), nothing can beat out Excel for size, speed, and efficiency of processing equations and formulae. So although it’s standard software that’s available very readily, its uses as a tool are ultimately limited by the knowledge of those who use it. By integrating its use further into the curriculum, students will have a greater appreciation for the mathematical benefits it has to offer.

Here are some connections to the ICT Outcomes from Division 4:

  • C.4 – Students will use organizational processes and tools to manage inquiry.
    • use calendars, time management or project management software to assist in conducting an inquiry
      • While time managements isn’t inherent within the scope of Excel, there are many calendar templates available for the software, so introducing these (and other online templates) to students gives them an avenue by which to graphically organize the described management outcomes
  • C.5 – Students will use technology to aid collaboration during inquiry.
    • participate in a variety of electronic group formats
      • There are online versions of Excel-like charting software, such as those offered through Google Docs; these allow students to work together online on the same project simultaneously at different computers or locations
  • C.6 – Students will use technology to investigate and/or solve problems.
    • investigate and solve problems of prediction, calculation and inference
    • investigate and solve problems of organization and manipulation of information
      • This explanation will encompass the two outcomes preceding it: As I stated before, Excel is a very powerful tool for the mass manipulation and calculation of data. If a problem such as taking many trials of an experiment were in play, then Excel would be an ideal tool to store the information in an organized format and to easily do the math on the large-scale instead of just one problem at a time
    • manipulate data by using charting and graphing technologies in order to test inferences and probabilities
      • Plotting data and displaying it in visual representations (graphs and charts) are basically what Excel was made for
    • evaluate the appropriateness of the technology used to investigate or solve a problem
      • While Excel is a good tool to use for math, using it to solve one or two problems might be overkill. Students would need to recognize when Excel would be an acceptable tool and when it would simply be more work than it’s worth.
  • C.7 – Students will use electronic research techniques to construct personal knowledge and meaning.
    • analyze and synthesize information to determine patterns and links among ideas
      • It’s one thing to show students how to make a chart, but it’s quite another to make sure that they understand what it is that they’ve done and what exactly a chart or graph might mean. An understanding of Excel as a tool can help students to find these patterns among data more easily.
  • F.1 – Students will demonstrate an understanding of the nature of technology.
    • solve mathematical and scientific problems by selecting appropriate technology to perform calculations and experiments
      • Again, it’s basically what Excel was made for.
  • F.2 – Students will understand the role of technology as it applies to self, work and society.
    • use technology outside formal classroom settings
    • analyze how technological innovations and creativity affect the economy
      • An application of Excel in social studies might be the analysis of finance and how it applies to the world. Many people go into jobs that involve data manipulation of some kind, so an understanding of Excel as a tool could help shed light on how some “real world” applications work.

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