TAKS Math Using a Spreadsheet
TAKS practice with Spreadsheet 
Using a Spreadsheet Activity

If you have never used a spreadsheet, take a class or have a mentor before trying this activity. The teacher needs a good understanding of how a spreadsheet works for this activity to be successful. A simple spreadsheet activity can provide a different way to study and prepare for the Texas TAKS test.

The first step is to prepare a simple handout with a few prices. The price list we used contained four food and drink items. You could use sports equipment, toy prices, pet store items, a school store price list, or virtually any short list of items that you think would interest your students. This activity was done in a computer lab, with 4th and 5th graders over a couple of weeks. Students come for only 40 minutes, once per week. The activity was done with ClarisWorks Spreadsheet (Also known as AppleWorks).

Week Zero students were given the price list and an assignment to write a "word problem" that would include themselves and a number of friends (their choice 2-200). Prices were simple: soft drink $.75; hot dog $1.25; milkshake $1.45; French fries $.45.

Week One we began building the spreadsheet. Learn from my mistake, and have students type the items that can be purchased in the same order as the original price list. Here I made a mistake, instead of having students type the list of items on the menu in matching order, we made a spreadsheet to match the first word problem. In later weeks we would have to change this to be able to work together efficiently. Cell addresses got too confusing and we wasted one class period getting everyone in the same order. Start out by matching the list and you won't waste that time.
We typed in the following headings

How Many 

We entered the data to match for Item and Price, entered 2 for how many and constructed a formula in the cost column. A spreadsheet formula begins with an equals sign. If our headings began in A1 the formula would be entered in D2. =B2*B3 The star key is used to signal to the computer that the formula is a multiplication problem. We checked to make sure that the formula was working by clicking the check mark. After doing a couple of formulas I showed the kids how you can fill down to repeat the formula without having to retype it each time. The formula writing is probably the best part of the practice however as it requires the kids to figure out the process they are using.

After all four items and their prices were entered we repeated the formula writing for each item. Many children understood the simple steps after just two repetitions. Others were still confused after the fourth item. However, most spreadsheets worked correctly. 
Our next formula was to find the total cost. We selected a cell about 5 spaces below the spreadsheet in the cost column. We typed the words Total Cost. In the cell below that we typed =D2+D3+D4+D5 adding together the totals for each item.
Once the spreadsheet was completed, we only had to change the numbers in the how many column to match the problem. This lead to some good short discussions on how to interpret the written problems. Some students meant one thing but had written it so that most of us thought something different. That was a good unexpected writing improvement. 

Soon we had a problem that asked for change received. This lead to a couple of additional formulas. First we entered a cell called Given. In the cell below that we typed the amount of money given to the clerk in the problem. After a short discussion, we decided that the formula would be equal to our total cost subtracted from given. By clicking in the cells where those answers appear in the appropriate place in the formula, you get the right coordinates for the cell. Most children could tell by looking where to click, although some confused price with total cost.

Then I saw an opportunity for estimation. I had the students select a cell and type Estimate.In the cell below that they typed an amount of money.
In the cell below the number they typed Difference (from estimate) and one more cell down we entered a formula to subtract total cost from the estimate. That rendered a surprise for me, negative numbers on the very first number crunch. But that wasn't a problem--The kids completely understood the concept of needing more money to pay the bill! Some students were quite good at estimating others did not do as well, but with additional practice, most improved in their estimates.

Benefits of this Activity 

Kids got to work in very simple formula writing for spreadsheet. Writing formulas for math you know how to do isn't that difficult. They all liked how easy it was to get their final answer. (I compared the spreadsheet to a homework machine at this point.)
We practiced estimation, improved our understanding of how we may be thinking one thing but writing it so that others think something very different. Although this activity focused on Math it was also helping their writing preparation. 
Because of the prices chosen, the estimation practice got better once we talked about how .45 was almost .50; and 2@ .75 = 1.50; 2 @1.25 = 2.50 ; 2 @1.50 = 3.00; and 2 @2.50 = $5. 


Kids will want to type the correct answer in the formula box if their answer doesn't match. That will mean having to reconstruct the formula. 

Kids need to click the check mark to apply formula before leaving formula cell otherwise the computer will keep just adding cell addresses to the formula. 

It is much faster in the long run to have kids click in the cell that they want to use than type the coordinates. If they type the wrong cell address the formula won't work. 

Pair a weak student with a stronger one. Most of us learn better by doing, so let the weaker student enter the data and do most of the actual work, but encourage partner to assist when problems develop. 

Only One Computer? 

If you have a way to display the spreadsheet, show students what you are doing. Have them write the formula on paper before you enter it on the computer (After the first couple of times of demonstration). 
Have them write out the answers or do the problems, then after a reasonable wait period use the spreadsheet to determine the correct answer. It will break the problem down differently, which gives a reteach possibility. 
Listen for additional possibilities such as estimation. Add to the spreadsheet as you go along. By positioning these parts of the spreadsheet lower or to the right, you will not be revealing answers immediately. 

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This page was developed through GirlTECH '97, a teacher training and student technology council program sponsored by the Center for Research on Parallel Computation (CRPC), a National Science Foundation-funded Science and Technology Center. Thanks also to the RGK Foundation for its generous support

© Updated June 24, 2002 Jo Leland Comments to joleland@cs.rice.edu





This page was developed through GirlTECH '97, a teacher training and student technology council program sponsored by the Center for Research on Parallel Computation (CRPC), a National Science Foundation-funded Science and Technology Center. Thanks also to the RGK Foundation for its generous support

© Updated June 24, 2002 Jo Leland Comments to joleland@cs.rice.edu