6 Tips for Teaching Spreadsheet Software to Elementary Students

6 Tips for Teaching Spreadsheet Software to Elementary Students

Teachers at every school I’ve ever worked have been intimidated when it comes to using spreadsheet software with students.

Even though our math standards have tons of graphing, something about doing it digitally gives people pause. No more!

Let me give you some tips and tricks that will open up this great option of using Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets with your students. It is totally doable!

Give the Task Meaning

Creating charts and graphs is pretty meaningless if they are just some random numbers to calculate. Give students engaging prompts (just like you would with word problems) so that they are invested in the outcome.

It helps if you can make it colorful, too. This image is an example of a first or second grade project for either Excel or Sheets. There are 6 data points and the final graph is a column graph, which students are usually already comfortable creating on paper.

Allow Students to be Self-Paced

6 Tips for Teaching Spreadsheet Software to Elementary Students
Click this image for a free sample
It is a bit more work up front for you, but making a screencast of the project directions is a game changer. Your students can watch the video over and over if needed until they understand exactly what to do.
It isn’t easy to show students where the tiny little icons are when you’re demonstrating whole group. Were they definitely looking at your hand? Will they remember by the time they are at their devices? Probably not.
Having the directions in a video is going to help your students be independent and successful.
I use a software called Screencast-o-matic to make all of my flipped classroom video recordings. I wrote this blog post: The Tools you Need to Flip Your Classroom if you’re interested in a walk-through of my process.
6 Tips for Teaching Spreadsheet Software to Elementary Students

Start with a Template for Your Students

Particularly at the elementary level, students benefit from working through a template. It is less intimidating for them.
It does add a layer to the logistics for you, though, because you have to figure out how to share the template file with them. Here are some suggestions:
It really depends on your setup. There are great tutorials out there for each of these
Examples of internet hosting:
  • Google Classroom or other LMS that requires login
  • Private Symbaloo
  • Password protected page on your website
Examples of offline sharing:
  • Using a network shared folder
  • Make a desktop shortcut of the template or folder of the templates
  • Using a program like Lanschool to push the file to student computers

Once you’ve shared the template with your students, they work through the steps of the project independently. You can walk around and answer individual questions as they come up.


Teach Tech Skills that Translate to Other Programs

One of my favorite things about using multiple software programs (and across operating systems like Microsoft and Google) is that students build a set of skills that they can use anywhere. 
6 Tips for Teaching Spreadsheet Software to Elementary Students

I love to teach keyboard shortcuts because it makes students feel like they are magicians! This set of shortcuts work in Excel but many also work in any program, like Google Docs or any web pages.

Typing, highlighting, and navigating the program are other skills that are being developed simultaneously.

Grade Based on the Whole Process

6 Tips for Teaching Spreadsheet Software to Elementary Students
This is one of the rubrics I use for grading Spreadsheet projects in Excel or Sheets. Look how many skills students are mastering by working in these programs!
Students appreciate that there is freedom of expression with these projects. While the final outcome needs to follow some specific design constraints, there is also room for their creativity to come through.

Follow Similar Formats for K-2 and 3-5

Once your K-2 students master making charts and graphs in excel, they will be ready for more of a challenge. It is totally possible to teach the intermediate spreadsheet skills in the same way.
6 Tips for Teaching Spreadsheet Software to Elementary Students
For grades 3-5 I add about double the data points and then bring in skills like formatting, sorting, calculating, and customizing graphs.
Do you want to try these projects with your students?
Check out these units that already have everything you need (including the videos and templates) prepped for you:
Thanks for reading.
Happy TECHing,

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