Technologist Module - All aboard!

Welcome to the Technologist module!

You'll find a lot of wonderful resources at the Technologist Module on the Extend site.

A few years ago, while teaching Math for the Computer Industry course to our students in their first semester of the Computer Programmer and Computer Systems Technician - Networking programmes, I wanted to find a better way to introduce fundamental concepts of Statistics (mean, median, mode) to my students. At the same time, I wanted introduce spreadsheets to them. Although they are "computer" students and they know about spreadsheets, some of them had no experience working with spreadsheets.

So I figured that Stats and Spreadsheets were a good combination. I set out to figure out how to weave them together in my lesson.

Let me set the scene. My Math class had 50+ students. I taught them twice a week in 2 hour segments - composed of 3 hours of "lecture" + 1 hour "tutorial". The "tutorial" was woven in with the "lecture" hours. I taught them in this classroom (also called the Rowntree Theatre) - I asked for this room specifically everytime I taught Math. This was a wonderful space because it had seating for 120 which meant that I had lots of room to do activities. Yes, it has its disadvantages, but I made those work for me. picture of Rowntree from front

Sometimes when we teach Stats, we get data from a book or elsewhere. Sometimes students do not connect with this data because it comes from an unfamiliar source. They don't have a personal connection to the source. In order to "do" mean, median, and mode, I needed data. At this point, we had already completed introductory slides, exercises, and quizzes on these concepts. Usually, those intro lessons use small data sets. I needed more than just 5 numbers to really make a point about the concepts. Luckily in front of me was a wonderful source of data - the students themselves. I decided that I would collect the following: age, number of siblings, number of Facebook friends, shoe size, and hours spent on social media per day.

Now I needed a tool to collect the data quickly. Well, spreadsheets are good for storing this data and for calculating mean, median, and mode. It's a tool that they will need over and over again in their work as computer professionals. I chose Google Sheets because I can open it up for collaboration.

One of the big advantages of Rowntree is its huge screen (can't quite see it in this picture). Perfect for some collaborative Google Sheets action. picture of Rowntree from back

It took me quite a few iterations to get the spreadsheet correct - I had to protect cells to make sure that students can only type in certain cells. I also had to think through the lesson and the instructions I wanted the students to follow. On the day of the lesson, I randomly assigned numbers to my students so that they had a specific row for their data. It was quite interesting to see the Google Sheets being populated in real time during class. And yes, I had a couple of students who taught it would be funny to enter really big numbers or really small numbers, but they quickly got that out of their system. Google Sheets for Stats lesson

After all the data were entered, I showed them how to calculate the mean, median, and mode. This lesson was followed by an assignment where they had to use a spreadsheet to calculate those values.

In keeping with the concepts introduced in the Technologist module

  • I had gotten to know my students and those things that engaged them.
  • I also knew their needs (to learn Stats concepts and to become familiar with the use of spreadsheets). This leads to the learner challenge on how to present these concepts together in a way that was "seamless".
  • The Stats concepts presented to me a natural way introduce spreadsheets to my students. However, I did investigate other technologies and other ways to deliver this lesson.
  • Once I had decided on my framework for the lesson, I did have to go through several designs of the spreadsheet and instructions for the activity.
  • I have delivered this lesson at least three times and have refined it after every delivery.

Through the lesson, the students

  • were better able to grasp these fundamental Stats concepts
  • learned how to use a spreadsheet
  • experienced the use of digital tools for collaborative work

I have another story about Google Sheets. It involves Probability and pairs of dice. Let me know if you would like to hear about that lesson. :)

(Header image: Motorized tricycles in the Philippines, CC BY (photo taken by me :) ). Tricycles are the most popular means of transportation in the small towns and cities in the Philippines.)

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