To some, the word, “spreadsheet,” fosters visions of TPS reports (a la “Office Space), cubicles, and redundant office work. Inputting data into cells can seem like a mind-numbing concept, however, there are things that you can do within spreadsheet programs that seems like magic. The first time I showed my fifth graders how a formula function worked, I actually heard “Ooohs and aaaahhs.” They had no idea that such a tool could be so powerful a program and such a convenient way to organize and simplify their lives.
Teaching students how to use spreadsheets is a great way to connect all sorts of concepts across the common core. You can use spreadsheets to calculate math problems and to graph data. Students, for example, could record rainfall over a given period. They could use that data to put create a visual graph and from that graph be able to write a story or explanation as to why the rainfall levels were what they recorded. Students could also list their spelling words, or vocabulary definitions and sort them so that they are shown in alphabetical order.
I love the suggestion that Baker and Sugden (2003) suggest on the benefits to using spreadsheets, including the fact that, “Building spreadsheets requires abstract reasoning by the learner.” We, as teachers are always pushing for higher-level thinking, and allowing students to navigate their way around a spreadsheet, being able to reference different cells and do something with them fosters that type of thinking. It’s also worth noting that Baker and Sugden borrow from Vockell and van Deusen (1989) and say that, “Spreadsheets are rule-using tools that require that users become rule-makers.” Combining abstract reasoning and allowing students to become rule-makers seems to me like a great mix to begin a discussion on coding with students.
Spreadsheets help compute the data that is life. Teaching students how to use a spreadsheet should be as important as teaching students how to balance a checkbook; after all, you can do that using a spreadsheet.
Here is the link to my website with some ideas on how spreadsheets can be used in the 5th grade social studies curriculum.
Vockell, E., and van Deusen, R. M. (1989). The computer and higher-order thinking skills. Watsonville, CA, Mitchell Publishing Company.