~ July 2005 ~

Integrating Across the Curriculum – Math, Science, Literature and Technology

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The Math Forum @ Drexel

Spreadsheets as Tools for Learning
How can spreadsheets be used in elementary 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?”
    • 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.
  • Spreadsheets allow students to integrate graphics with computation.


  • Teach spreadsheet as alternate method after solving small scale problem with paper and pencil.
  • Begin with words.
  • 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


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Last updated July 9, 2005