Young students exposed to the Microsoft Excel spreadsheet program can learn valuable early lessons about how to solve problems using technology. Kids will appreciate the clear, concise visual presentation of data. They also will benefit from the development of logic and data analysis skills.
Introduce kids to the basic spreadsheet fundamentals of Excel. Websites operated by Amphitheater Public Schools and TechnoKids (see resources) offer useful, kid-friendly K-12 Excel tutorials. Explain Excel features such as cells, cell addresses, rows, columns, labels, formulas, functions and values.
Encourage kids to enter information and formulas into Excel cells so they can familiarise themselves with the process.
Show kids how to create a data table with column or row labels and numeric data.
Locate the chart wizard in the task tool bar at the top of the screen. Look for an icon that resembles a red, yellow and blue bar chart. Click to display the style choices that turn the raw data into charts and graphs. Let kids experiment with choosing output styles to create different types of charts and graphs.
Choose a spreadsheet project or problem. Pass out written copies. Microsoft's website, along with sites operated by Wayne State College in Nebraska and Belmar Elementary School in New Jersey (see resources), offer Excel lesson archives containing many project ideas.
Read the problem together to determine what it is asking and which data will help kids find the solution. Ask kids to plan a solution strategy on paper that shows the data table, column and/or row headings, numeric data, formulas and functions relevant to the solution.
Instruct kids to enter this information on the Excel spreadsheet. Have them ask themselves if the data design makes sense. Does it answer the question posed? If not, ask kids to redesign the table and double-check the formulas for accuracy.
When the solution satisfies the kids, ask them to use the chart wizard to transform the Excel spreadsheet data into a chart or graph. Have them print out the finished result.
Advanced learners can tackle more than simple mathematical calculation. Technokids' Camp Technology Project provides samples of language arts and programming applications in Excel. Microsoft Education's Lesson Plan archive provides Excel project ideas in all subjects for all grade levels. If you are unfamiliar with spreadsheet use, you can prepare ahead of time by completing one of the tutorials and trying some problems on your own.
Save your work often. If you don't, you run the risk of losing your progress because of a power outage or computer crash.