Technology is the Plate!
Tools that Enhance Elementary Problem Solving

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Spreadsheets as Tools for Learning
How can spreadsheets be used in elementary and middle grades grades mathematics classes? Students can use this tool to organize and analyze data, to create representations, to develop deeper understanding of mathematics, and to “uncover” powerful mathematical ideas.
Why use spreadsheets in problem solving?
  • Mindtools, à la David Jonassen,
    • are critical thinking tools that engage and facilitate cognitive processing.
    • are constructive.
    • amplify and reorganize mental functioning.
    • require learners to think more deeply than they would have to without the tool.
    • make more effective use of the mental efforts of the learner; offloading calculation tasks allows learner to apply more effort to understanding.
  • Spreadsheets support problem solving by enabling students to
    • identify and describe relationships and patterns — facilitated by organization of data.
    • answer questions and make decisions.
    • test hypotheses: “what if?”
    • integrate graphical representation with numerical
    • double check through alternate calculation.
    • explore extensions of the problem.
  • Spreadsheets enhance mathematical comprehension by supporting numerical thinking.
  • Spreadsheets facilitate generalization which prepares them for algebra.


  • Teach spreadsheet as alternate method after solving small scale problem with paper and pencil.
  • Begin with words before building formulas.
  • Begin with a teacher-created template.
  • Reinforce labeling of data, formatting number, including rounding issues.
  • Not a replacement for understanding.
  • Importance of estimation and determining reasonableness of answer.
  • Effective use of technology will influence what math is taught.

Mathematical concepts supported by spreadsheet:

  • formula generation
  • connections
  • symmetry
  • discrete vs continuous
  • graphs
  • geometric relationships among dimension, area, perimeter, volume
  • rate of growth


  • Principals and Standards for School Mathematics. National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
  • Computers as Mindtools for Schools. David H Jonassen; Merrill/Prentice Hall.
  • Spreadsheet Activities in Middle School Mathematics. John C Russell; NCTM.
  • Introduction to Math and Spreadsheets

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