Relative Advantage of Using Spreadsheets and Databases in Education

This week in EdTech 541, we read about and designed spreadsheet and database activities. Utilizing spreadsheets and databases does not have to be a boring activity within a classroom. As soon as one states the term spreadsheet, it may seem that would be boring to students. However, the biggest advantage of a well-written activity involving spreadsheets and databases in a classroom is that it makes the lesson student centered rather than teacher centered. It would not be a powerful lesson if a teacher just shows their students an example of a spreadsheet. An excellent activity for high school level students in AP Statistics is to have students begin building and formulating their own spreadsheets!! Advantages of doing so could include:

  • Saving Time

    In higher level math, you can have students learn how to program a spreadsheet to do multi-step math problems. This will save them time in the long-run. In the meantime, you have also taught students a real-world skill they will most likely need for college and future careers. Employees that know how to get started on a spreadsheet will outshine those employees who do not.

  • Excellent Organizational Tool for Data

    It is easier to spot patterns within data if it is well organized, typed data is easier to read than handwritten and spreadsheets can quickly turn the data into multiple types of graphical displays.

  • Allows Students to Ask “What If…” Questions

    This idea also relates to the above two relative advantages; saving time and an excellent organizational tool. More specifically, spreadsheets allow students to quickly change the data from a dot plot to a boxplot to a histogram which in turn allows students to more quickly analyze data. Now teachers can have students reach higher levels of thinking, for example on Bloom’s Taxonomy, without the frustration of repetitive calculations.

  • Increase Motivation in Math Courses

    Many students that do not prefer math courses do so because of frustrations from previous math courses. Perhaps a student was seriously ill or moved when the class learned long division or fractions? Missing one critical concept could frustrate a student for years as solving these types of math questions by hand is expected, even years later in middle school. The reality of the matter is, in high school, college and within one’s job, a person does long division on a calculator. However, there is value behind learning long division by hand: it teaches students the mathematical foundational so they understand what division is, why do we need division, when do they apply division, and most importantly students learn how to follow an algorithm as there will be many more coming their way throughout high school and college. Students should not be discouraged from doing higher level math due to a missed arithmetic skill from early grade levels. By teaching students how to program a spreadsheet to do repetitive arithmetic skills, it can alleviate student anxiety towards math.

  • Teaches a 21st Century Skills

    By having students learn to program spreadsheets or databases, you are also teaching them a life long skill for any future career. To make programming immediately valuable to students, teach them how to write a program to calculate their grades for all their classes. This is similar to an adult receiving their paycheck, as a student paycheck is their grade. Students frequently ask me “What will my grade be if I turn this assignment in?” My response is “This is a math problem. I am your math teacher. You should strive to figure out the mathematical computation as it is simply adding, multiplication, and division turned into percents”. Sometimes my follow up comment is “You are in AP Calculus BC“. This would be the perfect spreadsheet activity for any class.


The Glossary of Education Reform (2014). 21st century skills. Created by The Great Schools Partnership. Retrieved from

Partnership for 21st Century Skills (2011). Framework for 21st century learning. Retrieved from

Roblyer, M. D. & Doerling, A. H. (2013). Integrating educational technology into teaching (6th ed.) (p.10-51). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.






Filed under AECT Standard 2.4

12 responses to “Relative Advantage of Using Spreadsheets and Databases in Education

  1. I didn’t think of the advantage of knowing how to use a spreadsheet when you are an employee. That is a great real world connection that students should know. Thanks for pointing that out.

    I wasn’t sure I would find a way to use spreadsheets in my own classroom, but after some searching I think they would even be beneficial in kindergarten classrooms.

  2. I like your defense of learning from programming a spreadsheet. I often have a hard time telling my kids that they have to “write it all out for the teacher” when they know the answer in their head. I think that this type of technology might let those kids that are ready soar ahead as well as provide the ability to catch up for those who may be a bit behind as you pointed out.

    • I had not thought of the significance of writing out their work! Excellent point!! When you program, you have to get every single detail or the formula won’t work. Thanks, I can use that as justification too.

  3. sarahbaughman

    Your learning log is really well put together! I love the way you formatted this post. I like how you mention saving time because I feel that if we same time with lower level tasks we can spend more time guiding students toward high level thinking activities and questions.

  4. Thanks for the compliment on my learning log! I just have one more semester in the spring and have been doing a little to improve it each semester. Almost done!!
    A definite yes in agreement with letting the spreadsheet do the basic calculations so there can be more discussion about the big ideas. Thanks!

  5. Dria Setter

    Hi Angie,
    I like how you referenced 21st Century Skills. I think it is so important to do our best to prepare students, of all ages, for the real world. The use of spreadsheets and databases provide a great opportunity for students to connect to the real world. I also LOVE the answer you provide to students when turning in an assignment. Too many times, I think, students finish things just for the sake of finishing them, but especially in a course like AP Calc BC, they should be challenging themselves and need to recognize that.

    Thanks for sharing,

  6. I get jealous of you math teachers. You guys have the opportunity to really make things relevant by incorporating real-world application so often. However, if someone paid me to teach math, I would politely decline. Math is just not one of my gifts. I think I would’ve loved to have you as a math teacher though! I don’t think we once touched a spreadsheet, nor learned how to program formulas or equations on them. I think that’s why I still get a little petrified when I see one! Great grasp of using spreadsheets in meaningful ways in your classroom!

  7. Lindy Hockenbary

    Hi Angie – You made a really great point that I or Robyler and Doering did not and that is the importance of using spreadsheets as a job skill. My husband is a wildlife biologist. He lives out of spreadsheets and databases for data gathering, storing, and analysis.

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