Using Excel (spreadsheets) in Science with learners who have special needs (SEN)

I’m a great believer in using spreadsheets in Science lessons.  They can carry out calculations quickly an accurately (e.g. averaging results), they can graph results (to make it easier for students with poor numeracy skills to interpret data) and they can even colour code results to aid understanding.

Averaging results, sorting results and carrying out calculations.

I’ve used Excel when calculating the speed of students to work out their average speeds and then rank them in order.  In the spreadsheet below I am averaging the reaction times of students.  If you’ve tried getting SEN students to do this with calculators you’ll know what a life saver a spreadsheet can be.

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Graphing results

I have excellent graphing software for simple graphs, and I recommend 2Simple’s software for standalone graphing that students of low ability can use independently.  There are occasions however when you need something a little more powerful or flexible, or when you want to embed a graph along side results tables etc.

This graph from an excel sheet has a trend line to help students see a relationship

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This graph shows an average of reaction times.  Data entry can be fiddly, but we had numerous errors when students had to convert their times into seconds to average themselves (and I provided extra data to average with the pupils’ own data of varying quality so they always saw the trend I wanted).

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Conditional formatting and the IF command

Conditional formatting can be extremely useful to help learners interpret their results.  Results can be colour coded (and errors from averaging empty columns can be hidden). 

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In the spreadsheet above the average box changes colour to help pupils interpret the results (red = worse, green = better) using conditional formatting (after comparing the two averages).  The better or worse statements are completed automatically based on the averages calculated as pupils enter their results (using an IF statement).   Cells with errors are formatted (conditional formatting again) to appear as white text on a white box.

I hope these examples have given you an idea of some of the ways that spreadsheets can be used in a science lesson.  Don’t worry it you don’t have access to a suite of computers, many of these activities work just as well with a single spreadsheet hooked up to an interactive whiteboard (IWB).