As more classrooms move towards 1:1 it is now feasible for students to be regularly creating spreadsheets. Almost any managerial position requires spreadsheet knowledge. When students ask “When are we going to use this?” The answer could very well be a spreadsheet. Writing formulas in a spreadsheet such as Google Sheets or Excel gives students an opportunity to practice their algebraic thinking. By having students regularly demonstrate their math in a spreadsheet they have the opportunity to learn skills they will use for a lifetime as well as an application for the math skill.
Use Spreadsheets Regularly
One of the standards for mathematical practice for the Common Core is to use tools strategically, including spreadsheets. This means that when posed with a problem students know which tools they will need and will choose them on their own. Spreadsheets organize information, which makes spreadsheets the appropriate tool when students are getting started with figuring out a problem.
Make a practice to ask students to complete tasks in a spreadsheet. This could be as simple as organizing a list of vocabulary words and their definitions in a spreadsheet.
Take Advantage of Tabs
Students can organize their work on a spreadsheet by doing one problem per tab. Setting up a template that poses challenges on each tab helps students to better understand the concept of multiple sheets in a workbook and also helps them keep their work organized. One issue some people have when sharing spreadsheets with others is the lack of knowledge of the recipient that additional information is available on other tabs. By asking students to regularly organize information on different tabs this helps them to gain the skill of expecting to find additional information on tabs.
Students do not need to make complex spreadsheets right out the gate. Simply exposing students to the existence of this powerful tool is a win. Initially, have students use spreadsheets simply to organize information. Show them how to grab the edge of a cell and drag it to reorganize information.