Spreadsheets are grids created to store, manage, and retrieve information. Spreadsheet data can be manipulated into graphical form and formulas can be used to tabulate data. Information also can be sorted and filtered on a spreadsheet. The most popular spreadsheet program used is MS Excel. Here is an example of the Excel software put to use:

Databases are actually much more powerful than spreadsheets in the way you’re able to manipulate data. Vernier software and technology offers another database program known as Logger Pro 3. This interface is more user friendly than Excel in terms of graphing data and interpreting data from the graphs. Students use scientific sensory probes to collect real life data that is automatically incorporated into the software. The students can then analyze the data using several tools within the software. For example, students can try different mathematical equations to apply to the data in order to derive an equation that best fits the data. Using the equation, students can then extrapolate it to theoretical concepts such as acceleration, velocity, time, etc. An example of a Vernier Lab and its implementation with its software:

Related Theory

The use of databases and spreadsheets can be part of constructivism theories. When implemented carefully, spreadsheets can be the working space for students who are just learning about complex topics. As they collect more and more data, through inquiry, they may formulate ideas and understandings of how the data is related and how it can be represented.

Databases and spreadsheets are relevant to the theory of cognitivism in that they are great resources that can organize information and thoughts--organizing the human mind structures, ideas, and meanings.


Spreadsheets offer teachers and students several kinds of unique benefits. Spreadsheets can:
  • Save time — Spreadsheets save valuable time by allowing teachers and students to complete essential calculations quickly. They save time not only by making initial calculations faster and more accurate, but their automatic recalculation features also make it easy to update products such as grades and budgets. Entries also can be changed, added, or deleted easily, with formulas that automatically recalculate final grades.
  • Organize displays of information — Although spreadsheet programs are intended for numerical data, their capability to store information in columns makes them ideal tools for designing informational charts such as schedules and attendance lists that may contain few numbers and no calculations at all.
  • Help students visualize mathmatical concepts— For example, a student can see a graphical display of a function on a graph.
  • Support asking "what if" questions — Spreadsheets help students visualize the impact of changes in numbers. Since values are automatically recalculated when changes are made in a worksheet, a user can play with numbers and immediately see the result. This capability makes it feasible for teachers to pose "what if" questions and to answer them quickly and easily.
  • Increase motivation to work with mathematics — Many teachers feel that spreadsheets make working with numbers more fun. Students sometimes perceive mathematical concepts as dry and boring; spreadsheets can make these concepts so graphic that students express real delight with seeing how they work.
  • Shows relationships between graphs and charts that represent the same series of data— As one teacher stated, "For years it took me three to five days to teach kids the use a pie chart, bar graph, and/or a line graph to accurately represent information. Now with Excel, it makes it so much easier because the kids are far more motivated to use the application to manipulate data and to chart any information."

Here are just a few of the actions that you can perform on a database that would be difficult if not impossible to perform on a spreadsheet:
  • Retrieve all records that match certain criteria
  • Update records in bulk
  • Cross-reference records in different tables
  • Perform complex aggregate calculations


Excel spreadsheets makes data analysis so easy that some students may think that they came to their conclusions too quickly without taking enough time to thoroughly check everything for accuracy and reliability. Students find it easier to crunch numbers in Excel. This can lead to students just thinking that their job is complete when they haven't even scratched the surface of what needs to be done. As any math teacher will tell you, there are multiple ways to do just about any problem. The same holds true with Excel, there are many ways to do just about everything. This can be overwhelming for students who need less choices when making decisions on how to represent data. Also, the function formulas are hidden when using Excel, and it may make it difficult to check student work. Lastly, excel and other database software have a steep learning curve. Many people do not even come close to learning about the full benefits and features of these products.

The downfall of most database programs is that they not as easy to learn and use as most spreadsheet applications and are not as easy to make structural changes in once queries, forms, and reports are developed. One must have knowledge of the best way to structure the information into one or more tables before any tables are used to develop a means of retrieving the information. The reason for this, is that once saved queries, forms, and reports are based on the table(s), any changes in the table(s) structure (like deleting/changing field names) may cause errors in all the objects based on the changed table(s). So, it is important that the developer of the database has a clear vision of all types of information that would need to be included and how to organize it. This, combined with an interface that's not usually as intuitive as a spreadsheet, sometimes intimidates would-be database users.

Special Guidance

See link for list of tutorials and lesson plan ideas:

Like any software, Excel and Logger Pro have a steep learning curve associated with them. Not only do teachers need to be trained to be familiar with these databases, but they must also be trained to teach students how to use these databases as well.

Current Research

Computer simulations are applications of special interest in physics teaching because they can support powerful modeling environments involving physics concepts and processes. In one study, two groups (control and experimental) of 15–16 years old students were studied to determine the role of computer simulations in the development of functional understanding of the concepts of velocity and acceleration in projectile motions. Both groups received traditional classroom instruction on these topics; the experimental group used computer simulations in the form of graphing in spreadsheets. The results of the study show that students working with simulations exhibited significantly higher scores in the research tasks. These findings strongly support that computer simulations may be used as an alternative instructional tool in order to help students confront their cognitive constraints and develop functional understanding of physics.

Ronald Keijzer, Jan Terwel. **Learning for mathematical insight: a longitudinal comparative study on modelling** Learning and Instruction, Volume 13, Issue 3, June 2003, Pages 285-304

Lesson Ideas

1. Science: Chart students' reaction times to a falling object the classroom. Person 1 drops a ruler with measurements on it. Person 2 tries to grab the ruler as quickly as possible. Record how far the ruler drops before it is grabbed. Use spreadsheet software to make a bar graph of the reaction times of students. What is the most common reaction time? What is the fastest reaction time?

2. Using Google Docs, create a form form people to fill out. Email the form out or publish to a wiki page. Feel free to fill out the below form.

The results of the form can then be organized into a google document for assessment and analysis later. Because it is a google document, it will be updated in real time.

3. Using Vernier's software and scientific sensor probe, have students record the distance vs. time plot of a rolling object down a wooden incline. The sensory probe should pick up the distance of the object from the probe every tenth of a second. Using the data from the graph, students can extrapolate this to theoretical concepts such as acceleration and velocity--an inquiry based science experiment.