Mention spreadsheets to some primary teachers and there may be a visible shudder! For those unfamiliar with the use of spreadsheets in a primary classroom they don’t tend to conjure up ideas of a fun activity for pupils. Part of the reason for that is that for those who have used spreadsheets in their adult life, or are aware of their uses, it has often been the ubiquitous Microsoft Excel used for business applications that has been their experience. Microsoft Excel is an extremely powerful and versatile tool for those who know how to use it. For those just starting out it looks somewhat daunting to use. Part of the reason for that is that it opens as a blank page with an array of toolbars and menus.
But the “what if” question in a mathematics or numeracy lesson in a primary clasroom is exactly where a spreadsheet comes into its own. Having a bank of pre-made classroom-related real-life examples of number problems presented in a visually engaging way, and in a spreadsheet tool which makes the toolbars more child-friendly, seems to do the trick. So if a pupil can change a number in a list and see, as if by magic, how that changes the total, it gives more time in the classroom for the important “what would happen if I changed this number” question – rather than the mechanics of addition. Of course a skilled teacher will incorporate mental maths and thinking time for a class to try to predict an answer before getting the spreadsheet to do the chore. And that adds to the fun. It also reinforces the need for mental maths – checking even, by estimation for larger claculations, that a predicted answer is matched by the output of a spreadsheet calculation – it being an important lesson that “garbage in, garbage out” applies, so when setting up a spreadsheet a test with some data gives the answer predicted so that users can rely on the information later given.
In a primary school there is a need for a clear progression of data handling activities involving graph-making tools and spreadsheets. The emphasis is on finding child-centred contexts which quickly grasp the imagination of the pupil to provide engaging activities, where the children can have fun while learning through the use of number-modelling software. The following links are to resources which try to emphasise that, far from being what some adults may consider dry number-crunching tools, if presented in imaginative ways and at an appropriate level for the pupils, spreadsheet tools can provide an outlet for creativity with numbers.
Spreadsheet software which is available to all Falkirk primary schools includes RM Magic, RM Starting Graph, 2Simple Infant Video Toolkit and Microsoft Excel. The addition of speech, as well as child-friendly visually appealing and child-centred classroom-related activities distiguishes RM number Magic, 2Simple Infant Video Toolkit and RM Starting Graph from Microsoft Excel. Excel still has its place and links to resources aimed at primary schools using Excel are also given below.
Infant Video Toolkit from 2Simple is nothing to do with video (other than having a bank of excellent tutorial/class leson videos for using with the program with a class). Click here for more about 2 Simple Infant Video Toolkit. This comprises six programs for early years introducing basic skills, and supported by excellent video lessons aimed at teachers using them with the pupils (that’s where the “video” fits in the title!). The spreadsheet elements are 2Count (exploring counting with pictograms) and 2Graph (making graphs, bar charts & pie charts in seconds). This program is designed for the youngest pupils in primary school. The software is very visual with the activity clearly displayed and the associated videos created as lessons for the primary classroom, designed for use with an interactive whiteboard if available. There are several classroom related real life curricular topic uses for the spreadsheet element of the program – and while they really are spreadsheets the entry to their use does not immediately look like what a spreadsheet would look like. The Infant Video Toolkit does not attempt to be everythign to everyone – it has a specific target user age group in mind and presents the tools at exactly the right level for them. The combination of the video lessons (designed to be very effective if used at the interactive whiteboard with pupils) with the ease of use of the program make this ideal for introducing the idea of entering information on a spreadsheet and displaying it in graphical form for ease of then interpreting the information presented at a level appropriate to the early stages of the primary school. Infant video tool kit also makes up part of Purple Mash online subscription service, giving home access too for subscribers.
RM Starting Graph does what it says on the label! It is a spreadsheet program which comes bundled with pre-made example files for use in the classroom. And it is aimed at being able to be used at early stages of the primary school. In addition it is set by default to be in “touch” mode which means by clicking on the object (such as chosen eye colour) the spreadsheet increases the number and the graph automatically increases. It re-scales graphs automatically. The in-built pre-loaded files also have images already included so younger pupils simply click on their selected picture to be able to see the resultant graph.
The in-built examples all include an on-screen question or task sheet with the opportunity for pupils to enter their responses and print if required. These are also useful for teachers as starters for ten in thinking about questions to ask pupils in order to raise the use of the program from merely recording information to being able to ask questions at various levels to support interpretation of the information (at a level appropriate to the understanding of pupils).
The in-built examples include the following: Parking Survey; Car Ramps; Car Colour; Eye Colour; Favourite Fruit; Hair Colour; Party Planning; Pet Shop; and Travel Survey.This tool has been used effectively by teachers at the older stages of primary school since the speed of entry of information, and immediate graphing, makes it very accessible. Pupils can select from a range of graph types. And for older pupils wishing to type in numbers (particularly where larger numbers are involved) it’s a quick click of the “Yellow” touch mode icon to take the program into “editing” green level which lets users then input larger numbers by typing rather than by clicking. Often the difference between early uses of spreadsheets and graphing and use with older primary pupils is both in the display options (which the green editing level of RM Starting graph provides) and in the interpretation – the questiosn asked of the pupils or by the pupils using the information. So a move from “which fruit is most popular?” to predicting in a science experiment with a model car and a ramp how high you would need to make the ramp in order for the model car to travel a specified distance.
RM Number Magic – click here for An Introduction to Spreadsheets using RM Number Magic. This has a bank of built-in pupil activities manipulating numbers such as Flowers, Bus Fares, Christmas Party.
To access these activities:
1. open the program in Yellow, Green or Blue Level
3. Open File
5. Choose “Flowers”On each example there is a tab along the bottom of the worksheet called “Report Sheet” which gives instructions and in some cases a “fill in the blanks” on-screen sheet for the pupils to complete as they work through the tasks.
Click here for a video explaining about a possible classroom use of the Flowers file for early level in the primary school
The in-built activity files are: Force Measurer; Bus Fares; Car Hire Firm; Christmas Party (click here for a video explaining how this Costing the Christmas Party spreadsheet might be used for an enterprise project in second level in the primary school); Cola Price Survey; Electricity Bill; Elephants; Eleven Times Table; Fabulous Fruit; Farm Visit; Fencing Fileds; Flowers; Function Machine; Hackney Carriage; Hit the Target; House Valuation; My Age; Newspaper Survey; Number Patterns; Pentathlon; Plants; Pocket Money; Postage Stamps; Reaction Times; Steelworks; Sweets; Taxi Fares; The Milk Round; The Tube; Think of a Number; Traffic Survey; Video Recording; Weather.
Number Magic also has a number pattern creator built-in – useful to show patterns of times-tables. Click Activities , Number Patterns , Create Grid, Show Pattern of 2 with pattern of 3 (or whatever tables you wish to show).
For a classroom poster showing how to use RM Number Magic click here http://www.rm.com/_RMVirtual/Media/Downloads/NM_Chart_Final2.pdf and a brief descriptive poster click here: http://www.rm.com/_RMVirtual/Media/Downloads/NumberMagic_outer_Final.pdf
For spreadsheet activities in primary school contexts using RM Number Magic software go to http://www.learningalive.co.uk/t_resources.aspx
RM Number Magic has four levels – youngest pupils would use yellow level – this presents them with few menus and larger icons. As users progress through the levels Green then blue and finally Red they are presented with more and more icons and menus. Red Level behaves in a very simar way to Microsoft Excel – but retains the speaking toolbars and access to a school-friendly picture bank.
Microsoft Excel – there is a wide range of resources online using Microsoft Excel as the tool to put spreadsheets in a context suitable for use by pupils in a primary classroom. Some links have been provided below. Some of these provide tutorials in the use of Excel while others provide the ready-made files along with classroom teaching notes.
For early stages in the primary school there is an online pictogram graphing tool which serves as an early introduction to spreadsheets here http://gwydir.demon.co.uk/jo/numbers/pictogram/index.htm
Click http://www.amphi.com/~psteffen/excel.html for a wide range of resources for using Microsoft Excel in the classroom at all levels, providing real-life contexts where the spreadsheet has a purpose.
Simon Haughton has a series of lessons on introducing spreadsheets to primary 5 class http://simonhaughton.typepad.com/ict/introducing-spreadsheets/
Because these are animated simulations (with which users can also interact) there are ideal for use with an interactive whiteboard as a class activity or for pupil self-study.
Free spreadsheet tools: Where pupils or staff wish to work on spreadsheets outwith school, and where they don’t have access to the above programs there are free alternatives available which can open Microsoft Excel files. One such program is part of the free Open Office software download from http://www.openoffice.org/ while another is the free online Google Docs at http://docs.google.com
is a versatile and easy to use free online tool aimed at use by children where they can enter the information on an online spreadsheet by making choices and entering the information. Then the user can choose the form they wish to save the information, either online or downloaded or sent by e-mail in a variety of formats including picture or pdf.
Click below for a video introduction to Create-a-graph:
site provides a snakes and ladders style game for use in teaching about spreadsheets. This game can be played in one of two ways. It can be played as a whole-class activity on an interactive whiteboard by dividing the class into two teams. Alternatively, if you are in a computer suite the class can play against one another in pairs. This game covers the features of a worksheet (columns, rows, etc), using functions and formulae, organising data and presenting it accurately. It can be played online or downloaded and adapted to your own questions.
Primary Technology has a free online Pictogram Creator
on their site. This lets you choose from pre-created templates, such as favourite sport, fruit or colour. Or you can create your own. You can also add new columns with ease. And when you type a column name the Pictogram Creator automatically presents you with an image (though you can also easily browse to other presneted image choices). Then to use you simply click on the column to increase or decrease the number of items – so will work well either with a PC or interactive whiteboard. A nice feature is that you can also embed the tool onto another site. A nice visual introduction to data handling.
Maths is Fun Online Graph Creation
tool lets you choose the type of graph, add the data and then display the chart online. You can edit the columns and title, as well as choose to display the data on the chart, or to show the information as a table. Anything created can be printed from the online tool. The speed with which these charts can be created and the way in which it can all be done by clicking onto the graph makes it ideal for use with an interactive whiteboard.
– a free online tool which lets you create, without registering, a whole series of different forms of graph, chart or map. These created charts can be embedded elsewhere (and will be interactive) or can be downloaded and shared as images. Here’s a video tutorial about using Chartle.net http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BlGKssKbbWA