This activity introduces students to spreadsheets over the course
of two or three lessons. The first lesson helps students learn the
parts of a spreadsheet and how to read a spreadsheet table. The
second lesson directs students to make changes to their spreadsheet.
Through this activity, they will see one of the most powerful aspects
of spreadsheets: the use of formulas.
You may want to use pictures of spreadsheet windows from our
spreadsheet manual as part of your classroom lesson. This may mean
making an overhead transparency of a picture from the manual that
shows screen display (e.g., the menu options, the icon bars, the
formula bar). Going over this information in class will help students
before they use the spreadsheet in the lab.
Recognize basic parts of spreadsheet window
Read a spreadsheet with data
Make changes in a spreadsheet
printed copies of a spreadsheet window
Files to Use
income.xls (sample spreadsheet)
income.doc (student worksheets)
Treasure Hunt Game (math
transparency of a spreadsheet window
Lesson 1 - Reading a
Spreadsheet with Data
Classroom Discussion and Activities
Teacher Note: Depending on your lab arrangements,
this section may be done either in the classroom or in the
- Spreadsheets are like lined paper with columns. They can be
used to write numbers and make calculations. By using formulas
for adding, multiplying, or even finding averages, the
spreadsheet will do the math for you. There is also a great
advantage to spreadsheets over calculators. They allow you to
see all of the numbers at one time. This is important if
you are trying to keep track of a lot of different things, or
if you are asking "What if" questions. People in business ask
"What if" questions all the time. They will change a number
like the amount of money that they have set aside for salaries
to see what happens to their total expenses. You can use
spreadsheets to keep track of your money, your test scores, or
to work a complicated math problem.
- Point out to students the following parts of the
- Menu bars
- Column and row labels
- Formula Bar
- Sheet tabs
- Work Space
- Active cell
- Mouse pointer
- Each square of a spreadsheet is called a cell. It has a unique
name, or "cell reference," made up of its column and row headings.
For example, the first cell in a spreadsheet is A1. The "A" stands
for the column and the "1" stands for the row. Cells can contains
three types of information:
- text (words)
- formulas-formulas always begin with an equal sign. They
tell the computer to do a math problem.
In the Lab (Individual or Paired Work)
- Opening a sample file: income.xls.
- Follow your lab's directions for starting Excel and opening
income.xls. Have students answer questions about cells
and data. Use the first two worksheets for this exercise. They
can be found in income.doc and are called Parts of a
Spreadsheet and Reading a Spreadsheet.
If you want to extend this lesson, have the students play the
treasure hunt game, an introductory activity for spreadsheets. See
Lesson 2 - Making
Changes to a Spreadsheet
Classroom Discussion and Activities (Whole Group)
- Draw comparison between calculator and spreadsheet
- Discuss with students the fact that when they use a
calculator the numbers "disappear" with each new entry and are
therefore difficult to check for accuracy. With a spreadsheet
you can review your typing and see if your work is
- With a calculator, changing a number means retyping the
entire problem. With a spreadsheet, when one cell is changed,
the computer does the recalculations.
- Review cells and cell references.
- The place where a row and column cross is a cell.
Cells look like boxes. Each cell has a name. Cell A10 is in the
place where Column A and Row 10 cross. It contains the
abbreviation JUL for July.
- Cells can contain:
- Words - JUL, TOTAL, GIFTS
- Numbers - 25, 8, 0
- Formulas - = B3+B4+B5
- Formulas tell the computer to do math operations with
certain numbers. Move your cursor to cell B16. The status line
reads: =sum(B4:B15), but you see the number $210 on your
screen. A formula always starts with an = . Whenever you see
the equal sign (=), the computer computes an answer for you.
$210 is the answer to the formula =sum(B4:B15), because this
formula asks the computer to add up all of the numbers from
cell B4 to cell B15. You will learn how to write formulas in
the computer during a later lesson. For now it is only
important that you identify when a cell contains a formula
rather than a number or word.
Teacher Note: You may want to make a transparency
of the student worksheet, go over the spreadsheet in class,
and keep it up on the overhead during this lab.
In the Lab (Individual or Paired Work)
- Use the third worksheet in income.doc to have students
make changes on the spreadsheet. This worksheet is called
Changing a Spreadsheet. Make sure the students record their
answers on the spreadsheet.