Spreadsheet - A Variety of Activities!

Timelines   Interview Forms   Simple Graphing   Civil War & More Simple Graphing  
Not So Simple Graphing   Probability Experiment  

Uses of Spreadsheet. We have found quite a lot of interesting things to do in spreadsheet for our grades three through five students, and all of them are better managed in a lab setting. The simplier projects listed below certainly can be done in the classroom, but two of the projects, "Not So Simple Graphing" and "Probability Experiment" would be considered impossible for a classroom setting. "Timelines," "Simple Graphs," and "Interview Forms" can be done in a classroom, but would take months to complete. The "Civil War" graphing would be boring in a classroom becuase the students would loose the sense of discovery when watching someone else type in the data or do the charts. They would all be extremely difficult to teach in a classroom setting because kids would not be able to learn the new concepts hands on, but probably in a "view the projection" mode. "Timelines" and "Simple Graphs" have taken our students an average of 1 1/2 hours or 2 computer labs. The "Civil War" activity took one period for each class with all students doing the work simultaneously. Here are the topics we have done and some sample projects. The step by step procedures are for use with Microsoft Excel in Office 97.


  • Timelines. Timelines can be made quite nicely by younger students who need to become acquainted with typing in "boxes." We do them with all third graders and as projects, they are short and sweet. Here are several sample styles and types:

    Besides doing biographies, our third graders have also done autobiographical timelines. Once you get the idea down, there are quite a few ways to style a timeline. These take the students between two and three 45 minute lab periods to finish their work. The students research their biography in advance using a Bio Box graphical organizer found in The Good Apple.

    Here is a step by step procedure for making spreadsheet timelines.


  • Interview Forms. This is another simple text exercise to get students used to spreadsheets, but which also uses spreadsheet's unique "worksheet" cability to organize work better than a word processor can. This activity is recommend when students have to interview numerous people about numerous questions. Using Excel, all the interviews can be seen with a quick click and a glance. Missing or incomplete ones are easily determined. Click here for a general overview of how to set up and manage this activity.


  • Simple Graphing. Again, this is done by our third grade as a second level activity. The students do a hand colored graph in class, such as cereal shapes or candy colors. Then they bring their sheets to class. The graphing itself is quite simple, but the colors are what give this activity excitement. Here is a step by step procedure for creating simple graphs.


  • Civil War & More Simple Graphing. This is a simple spreadsheet activity that I do with my 5th graders to introduce them to spreadsheet concepts while reinforcing basics about the Civil War. I used American Civil War Battles by State to help me. It takes one period in the lab. I start off asking the students some questions: do they know which state had the most civil war battles? Do they know how many Virginia had? Do they know what percent Virginia's battles represent compared to the entire war? (By the way, we live in VIRGINIA!) The classes agree on guesses, then begin the spreadsheet exercise. Here are the steps:

    • Enter data. The students enter the number of battles by state as I read the data to them. (Click here for the battle information). In column A, they type the 2 digit state abbreviation. In column B they type the number of Civil War Battles which took place in that state. We had fun letting the students try to guess the number of battles for each state before I told them the actual number. When finished, we talked about having just entered numeric and text data.

    • Bar chart. They then graph the results by dragging the mouse over the range of data and clicking on the graphing wizzard. Their graph easily shows which state had the most battles. Click here to see the bar chart for yourself.

    • Autosum Feature. Next, I ask them to quickly tell me the total number of battles. After the uproar dies dow, the students learn to use the "Autosum" tool to calculate the total number of battles. I have them put that total in the cell A24, and we discuss that in addition to text and numbers, formulas are the third kind of information that can be put in a cell.

    • Pie Chart. Now that they know the total number of battles, and Virginia's number of battles, I ask them to quickly give me the percentage or "piece of the pie" for Virginia. Chaos will explode once again. Then, using the "chart wizzard" button again, we then build a pie chart to see Virginia's "piece of the pie" as far as Civil War Battles go. Click here to see the pie chart for yourself and imagine what it might have been like to live in Virginia during the years 1861 to 1865.

    • Map Chart. Finally, they build an intensity map which shows the states with varying numbers of battles. It helps to see where the geography is that we have been charting, and this mapping function of Excel is quite helpful. See the map for yourself here.


  • Not So Simple Graphing. Our fourth graders did a fairly complex graphing project with Life Savers. Each class sucked on the different colors of candy, and timed themselves while doing so. All times (in seconds) were written down for all the colors.

    When in computer lab, the students worked in pairs and graphed the times for each color in a single graph. Thus, there was a graph for white, another for red, a third for orange, etc. Separate worksheets were set up for each color.

    Then the students had the spreadsheet calculate the average for each color, and finally, they created a chart of the averages by linking to the cells with the formula.

    This project took 2 months but the 4th grade teachers are enthusiastic about doing it again next year. Take a look at the work of one pair of students.

    The whole project is documented with its own web site, The 4th Grade Life Saver Project, and also has a step by step procedure as well.


  • Probability Experiment. One of the beautiful things about spreadsheet is formulas. When formulas are calculated based on data in other cells, the calculated results will change if the data changes. This way there is instant updating! If a chart is created from the formula cells, then the chart is updated as well.

    Our 5th graders are all doing a 2-coin toss experiment with 50 trials. Their pie chart is set up before the data is typed in. Thus, as they go through the 50 trials of flipping 2 coins, their pie chart is updated with each trial. The classes that have completed this have been quite excited about seeing whether their predictions are close or not. Take a look at the final data for several sets of students: Team 1, Team 2, and Team 3. Here is a step by step procedure for this type of spreadsheet activity.

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