Why does the thought of using Microsoft Excel fill so many people with dread? Is it the frightening sight of a screen full of mini rectangles that obviously need filling? Is it because so many people associate it with mathematics or assessment? Whatever it is I can virtually feel people shuddering when I mention the word. Unfortunately pupils seem to feel the same. They look at a spreadsheet as if it has landed from some alien planet or make comments like ‘my dad uses this and it’s boring’. It’s like you’ve already lost the battle before you’ve started.
Excel is something that needs to have the fun put into it! Whichever version of the program you’re using there are plenty of opportunities to link it to all sorts of curriculum areas in all sorts of ways. Here’s just a few I think are worthy of mentioning.
My first tip would be to adjust your view – a spreadsheet viewed at 100% isn’t the friendliest looking thing. I always get the pupils to change the zoom to 200% – it just seems to make it look a bit less daunting. Once that’s done you can get started and my favourite starting activity for introducing Excel would be a pictogram. When you introduce Excel try to find a topic that will appeal to all. The best I have found for boy heavy, sports crazy classes is one based on football or rugby teams. I usually collect up a nice selection of club badges for the pupils to use to make their pictogram. Once they’ve added the data to their spreadsheets I always encourage them to format it by adding grid borders and colour – it extends their skills and makes it look nicer (although maybe it’s only me who thinks like that).
When it’s time to make the pictogram I tend to choose a column chart format, but pupils can choose to create a bar chart if they wish – just personal preference. I always like to insert the chart as a separate sheet – it just works better in my opinion. How you create the chart depends on your version of Excel and this is also true when we come to add the picture element but, whichever version you use, make sure you choose to ‘stack and scale’ your images so that one image is the same as one unit – it makes more sense to the child that way. If you choose to stretch your images you won’t have an effective pictogram at the end. I also like pupils to add a fill effect to the plot area (although it must be one that doesn’t clash with the team badges) – again, I just think it makes the graph look more complete.
To extend the activity I like to get the pupils to copy their graph and paste it into a pre made questionnaire in Word, just so that they can answer a simple set of questions using the data displayed in the chart.
Another idea I like is linking the Excel work to a topic in a maybe unexpected way. With a World War 2 topic I managed to create a number of activities that linked to rationing and coupons. You could try this clothing coupons ration book activity as a starting point as it is a very basic introduction to using formulae.. The clear layout and the coloured backgrounds make it easier for the pupils to read – a helpful hint that shouldn’t be overlooked!
So, there you have it. Excel doesn’t have to be dull and boring – have a play around and see what you can come up with.