This is not the first year that I have used Excel as a teaching tool, but I have been more purposeful about it than in the past. Today we began our fourth “Excel Exploration” of the semester in my #TrendingNow class, and I feel like it’s paying off as everything comes together.

Here are the handouts for each of the four explorations (1):

I’ll share my experience with #4 as a proxy for going into detail on each of the above. Like the earlier explorations, this one is an exercise in problem solving, and the idea is that Excel will be used as a tool in that work. There is a note-taking component to each, in which students are introduced to some of the functionality of the software. It is new to almost all of them, which always plays in interesting contrast to their comfort as digital natives, and its novelty keeps them engaged as they begin to see under the hood of computation.

What feels most natural on this assignment is the way that students are encouraged to use their math content skills and to use Excel as a tool for verification. We’re currently studying inverse functions. The assignment begins with a review of making a table and plotting its points. I give these notes informally to the class as they’re ready. Next, I show them how to create and name new sheets. The ability to reference cells across sheets impresses them, and they buy in because they trust that they’re really getting somewhere.

The third problem is where the action really starts. Given a simple linear function, f(x) = 5x – 3, students have to determine its inverse function, and then how to input that new function into Excel, which is not trivial because depending on how it’s expressed, this one is more complicated than 5x-3. After populating the input column of their new inverse functions with the values from the output of f(x), students use their developing knowledge of Excel to enter what they think is the inverse formula into the second column of f^-1(x), and it’s self-checking. If they get back to where they started, they experience the excitement of knowing they’re right.

For today, that’s as far as we got, and the conversations between students, the arguments about possibilities flowed throughout the activity. I’m excited to see what tomorrow holds, when we move on problem #4, in which students take a table of values and write the rules for both the function and its inverse, and then #5, where they enter a quadratic function, but they run into problems trying to make its inverse. Hopefully the conversations will be rich.

Please let me know if you have any questions about any of these assignments, or if you’re interested in original .doc files.

(1): I typically take pride in consistent formatting of my documents. I don’t know why I’ve been so inconsistent on these.