I love spreadsheets! I love spreadsheets so much that my colleagues gave me an “I love spreadsheets” t-shirt. I use spreadsheets for typical spreadsheet tasks, like managing a budget and analyzing data, but I also use spreadsheets for other stuff too, like taking notes for research projects.
I think learning to use spreadsheets should be a standard high school learning outcome. It doesn’t matter to me whether students learn to use spreadsheets in a science class, math class, information technology class or humanities class, as long as they learn to use them. Here’s why I think it’s so important:
- Spreadsheets let you do a lot of computations really quickly. When students use spreadsheets to solve problems, they can focus on other parts of the problem-solving process, like posing interesting questions and selecting appropriate mathematical techniques to solve them. Conrad Wolfram explains this better than I could in this TED Talk. Here’s an example of how I have used spreadsheets to speed-up the computation in order to focus on deeper problem-solving.
- Because spreadsheets allow students to out-source computations, they are a great introduction to programming. When using spreadsheets, students learn to tell a computer what to do. This begins with familiar language, like the mathematical operations, but can become more complex with functions like conditional formatting, relative referencing and pivot tables. Learning how to determine what you want to do with a data set and then learning how to say that in a language the computer will understand is the beginning of programming.
- Finally, spreadsheets have applications across the high school curriculum and in all kinds of work. I know most students are unlikely to use spreadsheets as enthusiastically and as widely as I do, but most will need them at some point and its a good skill for students to have.