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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Spreadsheets in US History Part II - Lesson Failed and What Went Wrong

Earlier this week I was all jazzed-up about using Google Forms and Spreadsheets in one of my US History classes. The plan was to have students put information about the causes of the Civil War into a form that I had created. The form had categories for economic factors, social factors, and political factors contributing to the split of the United States. The plan was to spend one class period gathering and inputting information and then spend one class analyzing and manipulating the information in the spreadsheet. The first day went well, the second day did not.

The second day didn't go as well as I hoped for a few reasons, not the least of which were two errors I made in creating the original form and planning the activity. The error I made was creating a form that only had three submission boxes yet what I asked my students to do was input fifteen pieces of information. I asked them to submit five items for each category. On the surface that would have worked had I not wanted to be able to manipulate the information later. As we all learned spreadsheet cells that have a lot of text can be very difficult to copy and or move. So what I should have done is made a form that had fifteen submission boxes instead of three. That would have made it easier to move information around the spreadsheet.

The second mistake I made in planning the activity was not accounting for the chaos that would ensue when I had 24 students trying to manipulate a spreadsheet simultaneously. I had planned to have my students identify commonalities of information from each of the three categories (economic, social, political) and move those commonalities into a new column. Creating the new column wasn't a problem. However, moving information into the column was a problem. When all 24 students were trying to manipulate a spreadsheet that didn't have enough cells, it just didn't work.

Despite the logistical problems of the activity, all was not lost. To salvage the lesson I printed the spreadsheet and had the students circle commonalities. Then we shared, verbally, the commonalities that we identified.

I still think that the theory behind what I tried to do is sound. However, for it to be successful in the future I'll need to make the logistical adjustments mentioned above.