Thursday, March 22, 2007

Rumor has it - My wish might come true!

I remember when I first discovered online spreadsheets. Within minutes I was creating charts or graphs in my browser in three easy clicks. First a bar graph; 3 more clicks; and a pie graph of the same data was floating around next to it. Introducing a tool that created visual representation of data so easily made me the tech integration hero in my school for the next few weeks. This tool, truly could be ubiquitously streamlined into any lesson where a visual representation of data lead to greater understanding of the content being taught. From history classrooms to math classrooms, the simplicity of creating graphs in a Web browser took away one of the biggest complaints of my most reticent teacher -- “its not efficient for me to use technology to teach this concept. The upfront’learning the technology’ or ‘setup’ time takes away from my precious classroom time and it does not add enough value to my teaching.” IROWS, a new online spreadsheet tool had teachers and students illustrating ideas without even having to stop to log-in. Logging in was useful for saving and more advanced features, but when you have a classroom of 3rd graders ready to illustrate their data, the three click chart increased usability and made CIPA compliance much easier. Then one sad day, during a professional development workshop, I noticed an announcement on the IROWS website. The site would soon be shutting down. The founders of IROWS had been hired by Google.

Turning my attention to Google Spreadsheets, I discovered new reasons for using online spreadsheets in the classroom. The collaborative features that allows multiple users to share a spreadsheet is great for group projects or engaging your whole class at once in an exercise. The chat feature can be used for reflection and makes a great assessment tool. We used both of these innovative features of Google Spreadsheets in designing the lesson plans and template that you see in the virtual field trip of the ITM 5 video. A few tricks (like using the same font color and cell color to hide the results of a row, and then writing an IF statement to compare a student input to the hidden cell, and providing a positive message when correct) can be used to create drill or practice sheets with immediate reinforcement. To login to online spreadsheets with students under age 13 in a district that does not allow student email, I used email aliases that all point back to my teacher account and created a classroom sets of logins.

But, I still desperately miss the charts and graphs feature I had so enjoyed when using IROWS. Taking the time to compare the features of other online spreadsheets (some of which include chart features) is on my TODO list. Meanwhile, it was my wish that the founders of IROWS are quickly coding their wonderful AJAX graphing capabilities into Google spreadsheet. Rumor has it that my wish might come true very soon. My fingers are crossed, but while I wait, I would love to hear your reviews of online spreadsheets and tricks and tips of features that make online spreadsheets work well as a classroom tools.