Patrick Cauley / Director of Technology / Sycamore School
Integrating math and technology can be tricky. Many times, teachers use apps on iPads or use websites like IXL, Mathletics or more to have students practice skills and then track the students progress. That’s fine and those apps do provide a much-needed service especially in the data-rich educational classroom of today.
But there is another way, that can directly tie math lessons into technology. I’m talking about using spreadsheets. You can do this with: Excel Numbers (Mac only) OpenOffice NeoOffice (Mac only) LibreOffice Google Sheets Zoho Docs. Yep, that’s a lot of different programs, but the process should be nearly identical regardless of the program. This involves students using a spreadsheet to solve math problems. As long as you have access to any of these programs you can do this.
When I was teaching middle school math, a sixth grade class of mine was working on volume and surface area of rectangular prisms. Volume is pretty easy, you just multiply the length, width, and height. The surface area is a bit more complicated as you need to find the area of each side and then add those values up. It’s not hard to say or even wrap your head around but doing the math by hand can often lead to simple mistakes that wreck the whole problem.
So after they had the concept down we built a volume and surface area calculator in a Google Sheet. The first time I replicated a cell’s formula down a column for a class they thought I had just made the Eiffel Tower disappear! They couldn’t believe how fast and powerful it was. I could immediately see the wheels turning in their heads about how else to leverage a spreadsheet for future classes.
Working with spreadsheets is a good skill to have and develop. I have difficulty in thinking of a field or profession that does not utilize spreadsheets in one fashion or another. What’s more is that because of its wide use, there are tremendous (often free) resources out there to help people accomplish what their goals.
Before starting a spreadsheet it is good to have a purpose or goal of what you want it to do for you; such as, making an online gradebook to track your grades or perhaps a way to track your favorite athlete's stats and find out their season average. Tasks like these are perfect for spreadsheets. Learning about spreadsheets and creating your own is a journey and one that often leads to a real sense of accomplishment as it becomes something that just didn’t do but something you actually created!