InTuition taster: Turning the spreadsheet into a tool for teaching

Most maths teachers will be familiar with Microsoft Excel, but it may come as a surprise to some to learn that spreadsheets can be used as a teaching tool.


SET member Ruth Lennard, a course leader in maths and English for Westminster Adult Education Service (WAES), uses spreadsheets in a number of imaginative ways to support Functional Skills and Level 2 learning in maths.

“I love creating formulae in spreadsheets. They are very easy to do. And making learners develop a formula allows them to see the mechanics of working out various calculations,” Ruth says.

An example would be to type in a lot of prices into a column on a spreadsheet and task students with creating a formula to work out how much they would pay for 100g, 500g, 1kg and so on.

Converting fractions into decimals and percentages 

Another example might involve students converting fractions into decimals and percentages. Set up four columns headed: numerator, denominator, decimal fraction and percentage. The teacher provides the numerators and denominators, then tasks students with developing formulae for calculating the matching decimal fractions (perhaps to two or three decimal places) and the equivalent percentages.

At a simpler level, the cells in spreadsheets can be used to represent fractions graphically. For example, select five cells and colour fill them. Then select a larger block of cells around these blocked out cells, say 15 cells in total, giving a graphic representation of five fifteenths, or one third.

“Students can work on formulae on their own machines or you can copy and paste material from your computer into students’ online workbooks or into the VLE discussion board,” Ruth says.

Additional useful Level 2 maths resources for adult learners are available from Citizen Maths

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