on testing and being the boss …

Dear Excel,

You’re not the boss of me!!!  Not on this test!!!

Today is testing day!  No … Not high stakes testing.  Just testing that I do in my class on library and technology skills.  We’re fortunate enough to have a course for our seventh graders (my sevvies) where about a third of the class is devoted to traditional library/bibliographic/research skills and the rest is focused on aspects of productive technology use.  We teach units on the word processing, spreadsheets, presentation, digital images, and online productivity tools.  I gave my test on the Excel unit today and my kids did really well.  I was really happy with the results.

As they were leaving two girls told me, “We like the way you give us tests.  It makes it easy.”  This made me happy.  Why?  For something like the class that I teach, why should a test be hard?  I just want to know that if they have some raw data, that they can set that data up in a spreadsheet and chart it in a thoughtful way.  One of my pet peeves about the way that students use Excel (or Google Spreadsheet for that matter) is that they allow themselves to let Excel boss them around.

One of the best things that I’ve figured out about teaching Excel is that before you ever turn on any electrons, force kids to draw a quick and dirty sketch of what their the final data will likely look.  How many lines of data should you see?  What numbers or labels should you see on your X-axis and Y-axis?  If they don’t know what to expect, how can they ever tell if Excel or Google Spreadsheet is producing what they need? “YOU be the boss of Excel!  Don’t let Excel boss you around!” has become a bit of a mantra during the unit.

The other thing about the test is that kids cannot help each other, but they are free to use any notes, handouts, online help, or tutorials that they can find.  “Think of this test like you are at home working on charting this data and you can’t reach your friends but you have online access.”  My kids have gotten amazingly good at finding online tutorials.  Most of the time, they just query, “How do I get a column to display two decimal points in Excel?” and they get what they need.  I mean … If it works, it works … Right?

Anyway, here is the raw data they got:

 This is what they did with it:

This is what they created. I’m pretty happy with the results!

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