Friday, April 29, 2016

Are Spreadsheets in Math Really Effective

As a math teacher, I wondered if there was a "correct" way to use spreadsheets that deepens understanding rather than being just a time filler.  Since most places have adapted the Common Core, teachers are required to improve the student's depth of understanding.  As you know, I've found all sorts of spreadsheet activities but what is the best way to use them.  So today I'm exploring the best ways to do use spreadsheets.
Diagram, Chart, Graph, Area ChartAccording to an article in Education World, spreadsheets can be effectively used but it depends on how, when, and why they are used.

There is an idea that a blank speadsheet is like the student of a student .  In other words, the student has to enter the correct information into the spreadsheet so the spreadsheet "learns" to do the math.  The formula's have to be right for the spreadsheet to produce the correct answers.

The article indicates that spreadsheets are a good way to:
1. Extend patterns.
2. Explore algebra through formulas and functions in a variety of ways.  Check the article out for the details.

Just know that spreadsheets can be used to improve understanding and communicate mathematically.  Spreadsheets allow us to speak math with formulas and functions.  We can extend generalizations, and we can develop meaningful real life uses.  The two pieces of advice they give are stay focused on math and keep it simple.

According to an article in ERIC digest, spreadsheets are the ideal vehicle to connect arithmetic with algebra and allows a person to move back and forth quickly.  Spreadsheets help students develop an understanding of mathematical concepts, seeing relationships among different types of representations, and discover how a change in one place effects the other parts.  It also allows them to develop mathematical reasoning because they are freed from worrying about calculations and algebraic manipulation.

SERC has a short page on Why teachers should use spreadsheets in math class.  One of the first things stated is that most students have spreadsheets on their computers or have access to it via google docs.  In addition, most students will need to use it when they graduate and head off to work.  Because they are so easy to set up, spreadsheets increase both the breadth and depth of the class.  It has been suggested that spreadsheets can increase critical thinking by its very nature.  It also improves qualitative fluency and a student has to apply the process when they use one because they are modeling the data rather than just reading it.

Finally for tonight, Education has a lovely write-up that summarizes the whole topic. It can be summarized in this way.  Spreadsheets can be used to:
1. Save time.
2. Organize displays of information.
3. Allow "What if" questions to be displayed.
4. Increase motivation to work with mathematics.

So all in all, it looks like spreadsheets are great if used properly.  That is good to know and helps me prepare my lessons for next year.