Wednesday, October 5, 2016

A New Take On Some Old Tech.

Welcome to my first post of the 2016-2017 school year! This one is going to be a little different than some of my previous posts in that I'm not focusing on new and emerging technologies. Instead, I am taking a fresh look at some old technology - the Spreadsheet.

So, many of you have known me in FASD as a teacher for going on 13 years. What many of you do not know, however, is that teaching was not always my career path. When I entered college as a freshman at the University of Tulsa, I had set in my mind that I was going to be an accountant for a large company and make a life in the business world. My accounting major had me taking many interesting business classes, including a class that focused on the use of computers and technology in the business world. It was in this class that I was first introduced to HTML coding, databases, and spreadsheets. 

Fast forward 18 years and I am still using this technology, but in the realm of public education. I am still intrigued by coding and have set a goal for myself that I will become proficient in at least one of the many programming languages in the near future. Databases, whether I take the time to recognize it or not, are a major part of my life. For example, any time I do any internet shopping and I am setting filters in order to locate specific products, I am using a database. A spreadsheet, however, is one of those pieces of technology that I do not often use, but think I, and our students, need to use more of!

As a computer teacher in FMS, I used to implement a rather extensive unit that had my students tracking the stock market, researching, and reporting on a major company in which the students "invested" a portion of their money. The students would track their investments over a six week period and their numbers were recorded in a rather complex spreadsheet. I can honestly say these students were amazed by their creations year after year. We would spend two weeks building the spreadsheets, entering formulas and functions all over the place. If you've ever built a spreadsheet that included functions and formulas, you likely know that you will see error codes all over the sheet(s) until you start entering numbers into the cells. This always led to some confusion on the part of the students, but the minute they placed their first number in the cell and that one number triggered changes across several other columns and sheets, you'd think they had learned the best magic trick in the world - one of those "Ah-Ha Moments" we long for!

Why all of this talk about spreadsheets? Simply because I think this old piece of technology presents many practical applications across the curriculum. For example:
  • Science Classrooms - Use a spreadsheet to record measurements and observations during an experiment. Data can then be analyzed, charted, sorted, and more in order for students to identify patterns, form conclusions, target areas for improvement in future experimentation, etc.
  • Mathematics Classrooms - Use spreadsheets to show the relationships between different types of data representations, such as tables, equations, and graphs (ericdigests.org). It is extremely helpful to see how a change to one representation leads to change in the other representations.
  • Social Studies - In this election season, students could be charting predicted Electoral College votes for each of the presidential candidates, allowing for students to predict the outcome of the election. Perhaps your class is studying potential media bias. A spreadsheet would be a great place to record links to news articles that might help to show media bias does or does not exist.
  • ELA Classrooms - Studying an author's use of various literary devices? Students could record examples of the various literary devices, along with page and/or chapter references, and an explanation of the meaning of the text and/or the author's reason for using the device.
  • Art Classrooms - Borrowing from Alice Keeler's wonderful Teacher Tech blog, students can use spreadsheets to create pixel art. With a couple of programming steps, students can take an image they've created on graph paper and transform it into an image reminiscent of the old 8-bit video game artwork seen in games like Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, and Minecraft. Lots of fun!
  • Family and Consumer Science Classrooms - There is perhaps nothing more important for financial success than a budget. Students could prepare a spreadsheet that can track income and expenses and allow them to clearly see where their money is going. This is a powerful tool!
These are just a few ideas for incorporating spreadsheets in the classroom. If you'd like to sit down and make a specific plan for incorporating this old, yet powerful, piece of technology, schedule an appointment via that link on the left! I am available for brainstorming, planning, co-teaching, etc. and would love to work with you! Please take a moment to complete the brief survey below.

Thanks for reading!

Justin