I was leafing through my fifth-grader’s new maths book and was impressed to see that in a few months time she’ll be learning to use a spreadsheet! I was in my late twenties before I realised how easy basic Excel is and how useful – see, when I slouched into a bank six or seven years ago with a hand-scribbled budget asking for a loan to buy a flat, they said no. Mum saved me: she explained the basic skills of how to dress for an appointment with someone you want to lend you a lot of money, of how to present your career prospects as highly promising rather than utterly uncertain and, importantly, of how to neatly set up your budget in Excel, which makes you look ever so much more reliable and likely to repay the loan than if you bring in a grubby, hand-scribbled note. The difference in the banker’s response to me in nicer clothes and with the spreadsheeted budget was astounding. There was no difference whatsoever in my actual finances or prospects, but she was thrilled to give me a loan where before she’d flat out refused.

As you can see from the photo I snagged of my daughter’s maths book (Abakus 5a), Norwegian fifth-graders will now not only learn to count the favourite icecream flavours of kids in their class and to draw tables of the results (I think they did that in first grade actually) but also to enter the raw data (5 prefer vanilla, 4 prefer strawberry etc) into Excel and to have Excel graph it for them. Later on in the book they do sums to figure out how much kids running a lemonade stand earn each month, and then they enter the monthly amounts into Excel, graph it, and then “press the Σ symbol” and press enter – “What happens?”, the book asks.

Now I just hope the kids get to actually do these assigments at school and don’t skip them due to lack of equiptment or teacher know-how. This year’s reform of Norwegian primary school education (kunnskapsl¯ftet) puts “using digital tools” up there with the three Rs (well, to be exact, kids are supposed to learn reading, writing, maths, oral expression and to use digital tools) but I’m not sure schools really have the resources to follow through according to the high expectations of the reform. Still, spreadsheets in fifth grade! Isn’t that cool?

So, how do schools in other countries integrate things like this? Is your kid learning to use a spreadsheet to calculate her or his lemonade stand earnings yet?

4 thoughts on “fifth-grade maths books now teach spreadsheets

  1. William Wend

    When I was still doing the teaching program at Stockton I was shocked by how little many people in my education classes knew about Excel. I’m not expert, honestly I hardly use spreadsheets, but a lot of people didn’t seem to know what they were even!

    Sadder, a lot of the women in the class said things like “oh, my husband deals with those in our home.”

    I am so glad your daughter is getting to use spreadsheets, Jill, it is great how advanced kids computer knowledge is these days. When I was little I was the only kid in my class each year to own a computer (Apple IIC-I just found it last spring in the closet…I have some pictures in my Flickr archive)…in fourth grade I actually taught our principal how to use an Apple!

  2. Des Howell


    It is great to find adults who have not been “brainwashed’ into thinking that
    spreadsheets are only business tools too boring and complicated for kids to use
    and enjoy.

    I am currently writing a book of spreadsheet projects for young people to use in
    their classrooms or at home just for fun. It contains games for them to create and
    play, puzzles to solve, lots of investigations of basic maths, etc.

    The key to freeing up our ideas about spreadsheets is very simple: Spreadsheets are
    software you can use (a) like a piece of paper (b) like a hand-held calculator and
    (c) like a programming language. If you also think of a programming language as
    simply a way of giving your computer a list of things to so, the sky is the limit.
    You do not even have to use “macros” to find lots of interesting things to do.

    (I did not list my website. I am also seeking to become a professional portrait
    artist in my semi-retirement.)

  3. P 161/06 « Plinius

    […] fifth-grade maths books now teach spreadsheets. jill/txt 2. september 2006 […]

  4. […] Jill’s post about her daughter learning how to use Excel spreadsheets in fifth grade made me very excited. It is great to see how advanced the knowledge that children have about computers these days. As a child, I was the only kid in my class each year to even own a computer (Apple IIC-I just found it last spring in the closet‚ĶI have some pictures in my Flickr archive)‚Ķin fourth grade I actually taught our principal how to use an Apple! […]

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