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Visualizing and discovering materials science concepts: Creating an engaging pedagogy with spreadsheets

Scott A. Sinex
Department of Physical Sciences and Engineering Prince George's Community College

Joshua B. Halpern
Department of Chemistry Howard University
Presented at the 238th ACS National Meeting, Washington, DC, August 16-20, 2009

Why interactive spreadsheets?

Easy access for students and useful for them to know Easy for instructors to develop see Developers Guide to Excelets

Creates an engaging pedagogy

more why?
Addresses topics conceptually, while camouflaging mathematics
Students have to think:

predict - test - analyze Allows for mathematical modeling and studying errors
More science process Mathematics resurfaces!!!!

What is the difference between an isotropic and anisotropic material?

Obvious to us but not to all of our students

Easy to develop background sheets


How does the size of an atom vary on the periodic table?

Simple data bases for students to discover relationships


Are bond lengths constant? Simple animations add value


How do you determine ionic radii?

Immediate, visual feedback to students


MatSci Excelets
Interactive concept exploration Supports Mathematicians' Rule of Four Mathematical modeling Supports national standards in engineering, mathematics, sciences, and technology

What do students like most?

For use in general chemistry (Spring 09; n = 28 students):

predict - test - analyze


Student feedback
Which do you prefer: static graphs in textbook dynamic graphs in Excel both Spring 07 21% 76% 3% (6) (22) (1) Spring 09 7% 89% 4% (2) (25) (1)

Using Excelets does not require that you be familiar with Excel. most definitely I think so just barely not at all dont know 7% 38% 34% 14% 7% (2) (11) (10) (4) (2) 25% 36% 32% 7% (7) (10) (9) (2)

All Student Survey results http://academic.pgcc.edu/~ssinex/excelets/assess.htm


more feedback
Excelets offer a more visual experience with graphs instead of using just the mathematical equations.

most definitely I think so just barely not at all dont know

66% 24% 10%

(19) (7) (3)

75% 14% 11%

(21) (4) (3)

Excelets make it easier to grasp or learn a concept.

most definitely I think so just barely not at all dont know

55% 31% 14%

(16) (9) (4)

43% 54% 4%

(12) (15) (1)


like least?
Make it less voluminous with fewer questions. Less stress on brain and less time spent on it.

These activities require too much brain energy. However, I appreciate the challenge. Stop doing this and just lecture

The How to resources...

Developer's Guide to Excelets: Dynamic and Interactive Visualization with "Javaless" Applets or Interactive Excel Spreadsheets

Tutorial, instructions, and a variety of interactive Excel spreadsheet examples

Resource list for mathematics and science

Contacts: Scott Sinex ssinex@pgcc.edu http://academic.pgcc.edu/~ssinex Josh Halpern jhalpern@howard.edu http://www.coas.howard.edu/chem/jhalpern http://www.coas.howard.edu/PREM/Education/Index.html
This work is supported by the Howard/Hopkins/PGCC Partnership for Research and Education in Materials (PREM), funded by NSF Grant No. DMR-0611595


Where will Excelets work?

Since we are using the forms toolbar tools, they function on both PC and Mac! Most all with function in Open Office Calc (open source) with a little cosmetic clean up! Option buttons have a slightly different syntax in Calc. Some of the conditional formatting has an Excel 2003 to Excel 2007 problem (switch tabs back and forth to correct).