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Topic: The NEW classroom


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Subject:   RE: The NEW classroom
Author: tackweed
Date: Feb 23 2005
I have been teaching 7th grade for several years now. As 6th graders, the
students all take keyboarding and are exposed to spreadsheets, etc. Therefore,
they are all fairly capable at entering data into the spreadsheet.

I found out that if I try to teach the spreadsheet part ahead of time, it would
invariably create confusion (Kind of like teaching an algorithm in
isolation).

Typically, I have a 'project' that involves a large amount of data such as the
'Average Student' that required that students compile the following data about
themselves. The data was then collected as a class and some of the categories
were compiled by hand for mean, median and mode.

Height (cm)
Weight (kg)
Age (Months)
Gender
Handedness
Hair Color
Eye Color
#Brothers
#Sisters
#Furry Pets
#Non-Furry Pets
#Cities lived in
Monthly Allowance
Shoe Size

The data was then entered into a spreadsheet and using board presentations,
students used a formula to determine the mean, sort the data (as a set) to
determine median (by hand) and mode (by hand). While Excel and others can
determine mode and median, it becomes a mostly meaningless exercise until the
students know what it actually represents. Averages they are already familiar
with.

This also raises questions on how to find the average gender, handedness, hair
color etc., which gets into discussion of scales and assigning values and
ordering values e.g., hair color.

Once we have all this nice neat ordered data, we plot one pair, i.e., height and
weight using a scatter plot (on graph paper). Next we move to the computer and
can set up all sorts of comparison and find some rather interesting correlations
like shoe size and number of pets.

Other tasks generally become more mundane, such as setting up expenses-profit
tables to go along with various text problems and scenarios.

Another activity is graphing, and while I prefer something like WinPlot we
always give the Excel version because that's what most students have at home -
and which usually gets a parent involved. Spreadsheets are also good for
demonstrating how to calculate the values of x and y for a given range of points
(-5 to +5) for a given equation after having dome a number of them by
hand.

Whenever there is an introduction of a lesson, the relevant calculator keys and
computer language instructions are also shown, for example, int(), abs(),
etc.

Depending on the objective, some BASIC programming exercises are given to copy
and to execute. The explanation of the programming steps is demonstrated and
students will sometimes experiment.

An example:

CLS
PRINT "Enter the number to check...."
INPUT x
FOR n = 1 TO INT(x / 2)
y = x / n
IF y = INT(y) THEN a$ = a$ + STR$(n) + "  "
NEXT
PRINT x; " is divisible by ";
PRINT a$
PRINT : PRINT "Hit ENTER to restart..."
INPUT r$
CLS
RUN

For the most part, I downplay the computer 'programming' part and present it as
another tool with a certain set of instructions. Once they get a few basic
directions, the students become very adept at bring thr reluctant learners
along.

What is unfortunate is that as the state keeps pushing for its cookbook-style
curriculum, more technology is being squeezed out of the curriculum.  Go
figure.

Jeff

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