Tech Recommendation - Excel

04-14-2023 00:52:55

Posted on behalf of Eric Gaze ( Director of the QR Program, Baldwin Center for Learning & Teaching, Senior Lecturer Mathematics - Bowdoin College)

This video explains how and why you should use spreadsheets in your math class to meaningfully engage your students with real world problem solving.  Excel is a valuable skill in its own right, and modeling with spreadsheets provides students with insights into how people in the real world solve problems using What if? analysis.

Click here to view my video.   See attached file for the transcript of the video.

  • Introduction/Explanation of the tool - The tool is Microsoft Excel, a spreadsheet program used for data analysis.  Any spreadsheet program will work.  I use Excel because this is the most common tool used in the workforce, but Google sheets can also be used with little loss of functionality.
    • Requirement - Students will need computers to use the program.  You can create worksheets like I do in my e-course with Pearson that incorporate screenshots of Excel so that we don't have to be using computers in class.  These work very well and allow students to take good notes as we work through how to use the spreadsheet.
      • The benefits of using the tool - Excel is one of the most valuable computer skills you can teach your students to prepare them for the workforce.  We are awash in data and the data live in spreadsheets.  Being able to analyze data in a spreadsheet using formulas, statistical tools and graph making is a key part of quantitative literacy.  Our students need to be taught how to communicate effectively with numbers and spreadsheets are an important part of this literacy.  Students who come back from internships or send me notes after graduation always mention how thankful they are for learning spreadsheet skills.  Many of them use spreadsheets on a daily basis on the job.
      In addition, spreadsheets allow us to tackle sophisticated mathematical modeling problems in our classes without requiring upper level mathematics classes.  The input output interface of a spreadsheet instills algebraic reasoning skills in our students as a byproduct.  They are forced to think about relationships between quantities but in a very concrete way.  Instead of abstractly referring to variables related by an algebraic equation, with spreadsheets we work with concrete data.  Linear and exponential modeling is a simple exercise allowing us to focus on interpreting the real world meaning of the constants in the equations instead of spending copious amounts of time simply trying to compute equations.

      We also prepare students for statistics by introducing them to the basics of data analysis using spreadsheets.  They will encounter data in their STEM classes and faculty usually assume students are familiar with Excel.

      •  The limitations of using the tool - The limitations of Excel are usually mentioned by sophisticated data analysts who use high powered tools like R and Tableau.  The reality is that Excel is a gateway to more sophisticated tools like these.  Students find learning these other tools incredibly challenging, Excel is a perfect stepping stone to these other tools, but for most users Excel is more than sufficient.


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