Using Spreadsheets in the Classroom

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Check Out the New Blog Here’s how one very innovative New Jersey high school English teacher, Damian Bariexca, integrated spreadsheets into a literature course:

“After we finished The Catcher in the Rye, I gave my students a list of symptoms of depression, got them into small groups, and had them go back throughout the book to locate specific examples of Holden Caulfield exhibiting each symptom. After they found a few examples for each symptom (there were 14 or 15 on the sheet), they re-convened as a large group, tried to eliminate duplicate findings as best as they could, and then came up with a frequency count for each symptom (e.g., substance abuse = 15 textual examples; crying = 5 textual examples; etc.).

I had them report out their raw numbers, which I then put into a spreadsheet. From that, I created a real quick, no-frills bar graph on my PC, broadcast it onto a projection screen via our ceiling-mounted projector, and we had a 6’x6′ visual basis for further discussion in no time.

By examining the bar graph, we were able to look at a visual representation of collected data to determine which of Holden’s symptoms were most severe. We then used that data as a jumping-off point for a discussion of whether or not this is typical teenage stuff, or if Holden needed to seek psychiatric care or counseling.

It’s the same discussion I’ve had for years with my sophomores, but the addition of the spreadsheet and graph gave it a new visual element (appeals to visual learners) and data-driven approach (appeals to the more concrete, less abstract learners) that helped the kids go beyond “Well, *I* think that…” and allowed them some hard numbers off of which to base their opinions. It was great; kids even discussed flaws in their own data collection process and the historical context of the novel (e.g., lots of instances of cigarette smoking, but that was more the norm in the 1950s, so it wouldn’t be as alarming).

Lots of great stuff, and dead simple to implement (with the right tools, of course). If I were to do it over again, I’d have had the kids create their own charts and draw their own inferences in small groups before we reconvened.”

As you can see, spreadsheets aren’t just for mathematicians and accountants anymore! We’ve even seen 2nd grade teachers using spreadsheets with a class. Imagine, the students creating graphs depicting the frequency of class birthdays in each month of the year.

From Professional Learning Board’s online continuing education course for teachers: Introduction to Technology for Teachers

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