Algebraic Problem Solving Using Spreadsheets:
A unit for grade 9
by Margaret Sinclair

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Why solve problems with spreadsheets?

Traditionally, the focus of mathematical problem solving in high school has been the development and solution of algebraic equations; however many students rush through textbook exercises using word clues and available numbers in predictable routines to arrive at answers. They are frequently nervous about tackling any problem that does not mimic a type already "learned".

This unit was very well received by four grade 9 mixed ability classes. The students were actively involved in solving the problems. Although some students later had difficulty setting up and solving the problems algebraically without the computer they were frequently successful at solving even quite complicated problems by drawing up a handmade spreadsheet.

Three results stood out: students employed a wide variety of solutions when they were not limited by "problem type", they displayed considerable skill in creating and manipulating formulas, and they approached new and different problems with confidence.

Unit Outline

This unit takes four days in the lab and a follow up day in class. Before students begin this unit they should have:

  1. Formulas on a spreadsheet
  2. Students follow two lab sheets on entering formulas using a spreadsheet and complete an assignment on their own.

  3. Setting up a problem on a spreadsheet
  4. Students learn to set up a problem and develop their own formula by working through two examples.

  5. Spreadsheet problems
  6. Students work in pairs to solve a variety of problems. There is a sheet of extra problems for those who finish early.

  7. Follow-up in the classroom
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Margaret Sinclair