In the June 15 issue of Digital Maestro Magazine, I take a look at using Google Sheets as a graphing calculator. In the issue, I explore the use of Sheets to plot linear equations. I also take a look at plotting Sine and Cosine functions. The examples include instructions for creating templates which teachers can use during classroom presentation or instruction.
Looking at spreadsheets
Google Sheets is a spreadsheet application. A spreadsheet has several components that make it unique. A spreadsheet file is like a ledger with lots of sheets. Each sheet contains rows and columns that are divided into cells. Cells are very powerful because they can perform a variety of operations.
A single sheet contains thousands of cells. Google Sheets has a limit on the number of cells that can be contained within one single Google Sheet file. This number is currently about 2 million. I have been able to create a sheet that with a little over 79,000 rows and 26 columns. Most of us will never need or use a spreadsheet that uses this many cells.
Contained within each cell is the ability to store information. This information includes text, numbers, and a variety of mathematical operations. Most mathematical operations are performed by functions. Functions are formulas used to perform basic calculations. These calculations include something as simple as summing or averaging a column of numbers. Other functions are a little more complex. These include the calculation of complex financial operations.
Some of the mathematical operations performed in the spreadsheet are very useful in elementary, high school, and college mathematics. Simple math operations like addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division can be done very easily. All we need to do is type our equation into a cell and the answer is effortlessly provided. Equations in cells begin with the equal sign. The equal sign is followed by the numbers and the operations to be performed.
Spreadsheets follow the laws of mathematics. This means they are very useful in teaching order of operations at the elementary level. Spreadsheets are very good at algebra. Algebra uses variables and this is another strength in spreadsheets. Each cell can be instructed to perform an expression with static values or it can be instructed to use variables. Variables are stored in cells which are then referenced by the equation.
Spreadsheets are very good at storing and sorting lots of information. This information is often in the form of numbers and text. A spreadsheet can easily sort a few thousand numbers from greatest to least or from least to greatest. It can do the same with text like people’s last name. Thousand of names can easily be sorted in alphabetical order from A to Z or from Z to A.
Graphs and Charts
Graphs are very powerful visual tools. The advent of graphs in spreadsheets lead to the demise of many companies in the 90s that relied on printing specialized graphs for company presentations. There were companies dedicated to this singular task.
Graphs are easy to create and update on spreadsheets. Some of the standard graphs used in education and business include bar, line, and circle graphs. Circle graphs are often referred to as pie charts. Spreadsheets take the values in columns and rows to generate a variety of charts.
Charts are very good at helping us visualize a large amount of information. Modern charts are helpful at visualizing information geographically. Spreadsheets use the names of countries or states to create a graphical map of data.
Academic functions and graphs
There are several math functions where students need to plot graphs. Some of these functions include linear equations. Others include the graphing of sine and cosine waves. In statistics, students need to graph distribution curves with standard deviations.