Monday, May 23, 2011

Spreadsheets and Blankets

Blankets really don't have anything to do with this week's work or post but it made a good title. Excel was one of the first programs I began exploring when I started to really get into computers and was more or less responsible for me getting really, really into computers and programming. (See a post a few back where the whole story was told.)

Since that time I've used spreadsheets here and there for various tasks. Currently I use one for student transcripts with calculated GPAs and credits required for graduation. I keep some employee hours tallied on one. Nothing too fancy. I like to make things look nice and always enjoy a design challenge such as the transcript spreadsheet, fitting everything nicely on one page. If you look at my recipe spreadsheet you'll see what I mean about design and formatting.

Some of what I read about how my classmates use spreadsheets I would do in a database instead. I can just as easily create a database in MS Access for keeping track of, sorting and filtering information. I haven't found the time to learn to code in OpenOffice Base or Zoho Reports/Creator yet but learning Zoho coding is on my list of things to do some day. In my opinion, spreadsheets are best used for number crunching, graphing or testing out different scenarios. Long lists of information for analysis belong in a database. Short lists of read only information can be put in a document table where you will have more formatting options for presenting the information.

As for student use, If I were teaching I could think of lots of ways to use a spreadsheet, even ones that don't fit in my opinion of how to best use a spreadsheet. Online spreadsheets have enough features for students to learn how to use them. As with other online productivity software, the full feature set is still not there for power users.

For those of you wondering about spreadsheets for the younger grades, I suggest you check out OpenOffice for Kids. The whole OpenOffice suite has been reformatted into 3 levels: Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced, with the latter having all the normal toolbars and options and features available and visible. Choosing the Beginner user interface, kids are presented with a stripped down version of features and tools. The different interfaces apply to all of the office programs so that young beginners can focus on learning the basics without getting confused with the clutter of features and options.


  1. Thanks for the link to the kids open office stuff. I've been advocating OO for years to parents that don't want to pay for MS or to students that are stuck using the infamous MS Works. I had not seen the kid targeted version and that may help convince them to use it and save some money.

  2. Curtis

    Good post.

    Thanks for sharing the link. Reminds me of Clarisworks for kids. We're going to take a look at it.

    "Online spreadsheets have enough features for students to learn how to use them." And I think this describes online software in general. I actually find the simplified user features to be a benefit when getting kids introduced to the software.