A Few thoughts on Spreadsheets and Databases
Classroom curriculum and management both run into loads of data. Whether managing grades or progress reports, or teaching simple budgeting to a 9th Grade class, the spreadsheet can often be a powerful tool that helps organize data and present it in a graphical fashion. This can highlight disparities or similarities in data, which leads to trends, analysis, and projections. All of these skills will be critical in our 21st Century marketplace.
“Using Excel can enhance understanding of content within a grahic presentation of the information; it provides a visual representation of data that makes it easier to analyze.” (Web).
At http://catlintucker.com/2012/05/making-the-most-of-google-docs-drive/, Caitlin Tucker discusses the power of Google Docs. She points out that the spreadsheet capabilities in Google Docs can:
- Create an online grade book
- Take attendance
- Organize contact information for parents and students
- Keep track of assignments – Completed? Incomplete? Missing?
- Collect data that can be analyzed
- Send feedback via email instantly using scripts
The scripts part I am interested in learning more about. Automation is a rather advanced skill in both the Mac and PC environment. The input and analysis of data alone can be daunting, but being able to script (or code) out miniature tasks or programs to reduce your workload would be an awesome skill to have. I currently use Google Docs to manage the flow of real time information with the parents of my tennis players. Sometimes this information needs to be accessed, changed, or updated at a moment’s notice. Further, it is not always me that has that information. Just like a Wiki can stop the old fashioned email-based collaberative environment where all of the data is spread out in fifteen Inboxes, Google’s spreadsheet encourages a streamlined flow of information. Take a look at this spreadsheet I created from this year. Much of the data has been blurred to protect my kid’s privacy. The cool part is that most of this data was generated by the Parents. If one were to run this data through a traditional email collaborative model, it would certainly be the equivalent of 800 or so emails. As the buzz phrase goes, Ain’t nobody got Time for that!
One site I visited discussed databases in the classroom and pointed out how teachers often can shy away from Access and other tools because of the complexity of use as compared to spreadsheets. Not that spreadsheets are necessarily easier, however there is usually some familiarity with cells, ranges, and the overall capabilities associated with spreadsheets. Queries, atomicities, and cascading however are not terribly mainstream concepts, leaving a trail of fear from the unknown.
There is, however, benefits to working the database into the curriculum:
“Creating a database of any kind requires students to critically think from the very beginning. Maintaining that same database requires students to revisit those initial levels of thought and move to a higher plane of thought. Manipulating a database requires students to basically “Think Outside the Box!” It enables students to reach higher levels of thinking.” (Web).
On the site Eric Digest it is noted: “being able to manage spreadsheets has become one of the skills sought for anybody in this technologically enhanced millennium. Therefore, spreadsheets have become an important part of many different curriculums at different levels of education.” (Ozgun-Koca).
A Closer Look at a Wiki
It’s interesting to note the distinction between a Wiki and a Forum, as it seems sometimes those lines can get a bit blurry. After all, this is the internet. People are digitally wandering around everywhere – in and out of blogs, forums, chat rooms – and all the while they are contributing to the conversation. A conversation that is printed, then sometimes cited. Funny how an idea, or a comic, or a video can go viral and instantly be seen by the collective conscious of the entire Globe. Who hasn’t heard of Gotye, Psy, or the Harlem Shake?
One of our links was a forum: classroom 2.0. - http://www.classroom20.com/forum/topic/listForTag?tag=wikis. A discussion on Wikis became a stand off between PB Works and Wikispaces. It started with a little bit of insight but then a representative from Wikispaces showed up in the conversation, and suddenly you feel like you’re at some convention and you’ve been caught by a guy in a suit who’s droning on and on about his product – and all the while you’re just looking for an exit. So it’s worth noting that you can’t really moderate or police a forum, you can only respond or leave. And who has time to email the Forum Admin?
Take for example Big Miller’s English class from Brandford High School (http://millersenglish.pbworks.com/w/page/20937326/FrontPage). This Wiki is used to communicate and collaborate with his English class and the platform is PB Works. The target audience is his High School English students, however I would also throw in that the Parents should always be considered the second audience. Remember, anything that goes online not only stays there forever, but it also can be seen by anyone. This Wiki is educational in nature and it doesn’t appear to have much content for Mr. Miller’s colleagues. There is some compilation of information such as the running list of vocabulary.
In my Wiki’s for class I plan on integrating both static information on classroom procedures as well as developing a collaborative environment for student’s to share knowledge. As with any technology, my Wiki should have a fairly small learning curve and the layout should be inviting and intuitive. I hope to bring the design experience I have from web development to my Wiki. The site you are looking at now was designed to be inviting, accessible, and appealing to the eye. A Wiki should do the same things.
This was an earlier mind map of mine. My guess is 2007. Mindjet was one of the companies that emerged from the recent hipster culture that sparked some ideas and ways of thinking that redefined productivity for a new generation. One can not really get into a discussion about mind maps without mentioning David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done. This revolutionary take on productivity was a catalyst for mind mapping, and as Apple hipsters got on board it became hard to ignore. A recent article by LIfehacker (http://lifehacker.com/five-best-mind-mapping-tools-476534555) still ranks Mindjet at the top. Even though I haven’t used Mindjet in a while, it appears to have the same easy interface with a host of tools at your fingertips. It looks as though it is now a paid service instead of a stand-alone, one-time-purchase software. This would likely be a hinderance for the classroom. Wise Mapping, on the other hand, is a free web-based tool that also looks easy to pick up. I began a Mind Map on what my English classroom’s priorities will be but it is not ready for publication. I will post soon!
I spent several years in the Video Production business prior to moving exclusively into photography. Animoto was a valuable tool at times, albeit limited to someone else’s artistic vision. However there were times when it was fun to throw a bunch of images into their algorithms and see what it kicked out. Below is an example. My Wife explores San Francisco.
Animoto could be an effective tool in the teaching environment, depending on the context. It could be a presentation tool or simply a form of digital entertainment. I believe the scope of academic use might be somewhat limited however, compared to some other tools discussed this week. Google Docs and mind mapping software have much broader applications for the classroom.
Just for kicks, here is another video showing a little bit of what I do for other clients…no Animoto was used in the segment below.
I am wondering if Microsoft wasn’t feeling the heat of Google Docs and didn’t launch their new “Live” suite to compete and stay relevant. The fairly new Google platform is impressive, and mobile. The ability to use Spreadsheets, Databases, forms, presentations and drawings is impressive enough, but being able to have the quick web accessibility that Google is known for makes it hard to resist. I am using Google Docs for various personal and professional applications. I have already mentioned in former assignments and on the message board that most of the flow of my tennis team at Lafayette is channeled through Google Docs.
One particularly interesting use that I would mention is a survey of my own life that I created on Google Docs, in the manner of a Form. The first, starred email that always sits at the top of my inbox says “Questions”. And I visit the link in that email every night. The link takes me to a fast-loading form where I am asked 17 questions. It takes about 2 minutes to complete the entire questionnaire. I am doing an experiment for one year (I started back on April 14, 2013), where I try to do this every night. Since I set aside time for journaling/introspection anyway, this is an easy and thought provoking way to start off. Some of the questions go like this:
1. Did you Eat Healthy?
2. Did you Drink enough Water?
3. Did you have any Worry or Anxiety?
4. Did you read the Word?
5. Did you and Tasha connect emotionally?, Physically?
6. Did you serve anyone today?
7. Were you moving people towards or away from reconciliation?
My hope is that after a year I will be able to look back and discover some trends. As with any experiment, I have preconceived notions and biases about the daily habits I have and how they affect the quality of my life, but maybe this exercise will show me a few blind spots.
Ozgun-Koca, S. Asli. Using Spreadsheets in Mathematics Education. Eric Digest, 1 Dec. 2000. Web. 11 May. 2013.
Excel in the Classroom. Teachology. Web. 11 May 2013.
Databases: What’s all the Hype?. Teachology. Web. 11 May 2013.
Tucker, Caitlin. Making the most of Google Docs.Web. 11 May 2013.