Spreadsheets Across the Curriculum, 1: The Idea and the Resource

H. Len Vacher, University of South Florida
Emily Lardner, Evergreen State College


This paper introduces Spreadsheets Across the Curriculum, a workshop-based educational materials development project to build a resource to facilitate connecting mathematics and context in undergraduate college courses where mathematical problem solving is relevant. The central idea is “spreadsheet modules,” which, in essence, are elaborate word problems in the form of short PowerPoint presentations with embedded Excel spreadsheets. Students work through the presentations on their own, making and/or completing the spreadsheets displayed on the slides in order to perform calculations or draw graphs that address the issue (context) posed in the word problem. The end result of the project is the resource: an online library of 55 modules developed by 40 authors from 21 institutions that touch on 26 subjects as differentiated by Library of Congress classification categories. Judging from online requests for instructor versions, the SSAC Web site disseminated the SSAC module idea to an additional 60 institutions via instructors of courses with 67 different titles. The disciplinary distribution of authors and requests for instructor versions shows that the SSAC resource serves both sides of the mathematics-in-context interpretation of quantitative literacy: mathematics educators seeking ways of bringing context into their teaching of mathematics; non-mathematics educators seeking to infuse mathematics into their teaching of disciplinary subjects. The SSAC experience suggests two answers to the question: “What works to spread teaching of QL across the curriculum?”—spreadsheet exercises in which students do math to solve problems, and workshops or workshop sessions that focus on educational materials.