Saturday, February 12, 2011

Spreadsheets and Reflections

During the past couple of weeks, I have been working on spreadsheet reviews and extensions with the sixth and seventh grade students. Both groups of students have been working with spreadsheets since the fourth grade. 

Hands On Work
I wanted to have the students generate their own data and tie into the curriculum in the school. Having taught sixth and seventh grade math, I know that they work with probability and decimal numbers. After some thought, I resurrected some projects I used to do with the students in math class as a more computer-centric operation.

I started with a probability project. The idea is to examine what probability is as a theory and give the students the ability to experiment to see the actual outcome. I've written the project up on my wiki and have handouts on the page, too.

The students enjoyed rolling the dice and choosing where to do it. They were sitting at tables and on the floor. Once they gathered the data and typed it into the spreadsheet, we discussed the difference between rolling the die a few times, seventy-five times, and over 1,000 times.

Making Choices While Gathering Data
In the second project, the students use the CIA World Factbook to gather information about countries. The students use a spreadsheet to calculate the percentage of land area versus the total area of a country. They calculate the number of people per square kilometer. I have a full write up on the lesson here on the wiki page.

Reflection is important when I use spreadsheets in my personal work. I wanted the students to not only gather the data, but then reflect on what the numbers mean. In order to accomplish this, they are following up the spreadsheet work with two reflection paragraphs. It gives them practice in setting up several document features in the word processor. 

The reflections are as follows from my handout to the students:
The reflection should have one paragraph that tells me how you went about deciding on which countries to select. Did you just learn about some countries? If you just learned about the countries, like Christmas Island, where in the world is it? Have you known about countries already? What led you to choose the countries? With the countries that you knew about already, did the capital sound familiar? Did you think a different location would have been the capital? Were there capitals that you never hear about before?
The second paragraph should have a reflection on the calculations. What do you notice about the % land area column? Please be specific. Which country had the largest population? Did it also have the biggest number of people per square kilometer? If it did not have the biggest number of people per square kilometer, how many countries had more people per square kilometer? Did this surprise you? Which country had the most people per square kilometer? What can you deduce about the country that had the most people per square kilometer?

Ten Days to Make a Difference
Following the idea behind the blog post at Make It Interesting,I created a project in which the students imagine being given $10,000 per day for 10 days. The question is: How will you make a difference to your family, school, community, state, country, and/or the world. 

They are enjoying looking up the prices of items and deciding on charities. I think I will do this project with the seventh and eighth grade. The lesson is written up on my wiki with the student handout.

I'm still trying to decide how I will tie it into the real world. I may simply start a jar for coins and let the students decide what to donate through Heifer International. I'll probably make some sort of matching donation. I'll post another note eventually to share how it worked out.

Changes From Previous Years
I've always worked on spreadsheets with sixth through eighth grade, but the lessons always felt contrived. We created spreadsheets with school lunches, imagined class trips, and magic squares.

My hope is that these projects will make a deeper connection with the students.

Photo Citation:
Ann Oro: Family of Cows

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