Your computer
Spreadsheets and calculators
Homework guide
About this guide
What is the point of homework?
When and where should you do it?
Tools you need
Essential furniture and equipment
Planning your homework
Curriculum help
Ages 6-15
Ages 15-18
Your computer
Using your computer
Word processing
Spreadsheets and calculators
Using the Internet
More advice
Rules to follow
How teachers can help
How parents can help
A screenshot of an Excel document
A screenshot of an Excel document

Using spreadsheets

A spreadsheet is a document that contains information arranged into columns and rows. The spreadsheet program (eg Microsoft Excel, Lotus 1-2-3) will do all sorts of things to this information - analyse it, sort it, perform calculations on it, present it in various formats and make charts to help you understand it.

You can use spreadsheets for almost any school subject - not just maths and science. For example, you can use a spreadsheet to create tables of information in history or geography, and then sort it in different ways - a table of historical people could be sorted by date (forwards or backwards) or alphabetically, or a table containing information about different countries could be sorted by land area, population, wealth and so on. You can combine sorting with filtering so that the sheet hides or shows particular kinds of records. (In fact, you can use the spreadsheet as a simple database, in which each row is like an individual record.)

More advanced word processors will allow you to use some of these features in a table. Alternatively you can place a spreadsheet inside a word-processed document - which is good if you are doing some factual writing, in which you need to include spreadsheets and charts. You can use the Insert menu to include any "object", such as a spreadsheet or a chart.

Calculators on your computer

Most personal computers have a calculator program included free with the operating software. On a PC with most Windows systems, it appears on the Programs menu, under Accessories. On a Mac, look under the apple menu. If you open the PC calculator and click on View you can choose whether to have a simple calculator for basic arithmetic, or a scientific calculator. This allows you to choose to work in different number systems such as binary (base 2), octal (base 8) and hexadecimal (base 16) as well as decimal (base 10) which we regard as the "normal" number system. You can use Help to find out more - especially the "tips and tricks". And you won't be short of decimal places, either. Ask the calculator to divide 1 by 3. How many places can you see? Or use the scientific view and ask it to calculate pi. You can find more advanced calculators on the web. A good search engine will show them.

How often have you reached for the calculator in your pencil case, while you were working on your computer? It may be good exercise, but you had one ready to use all the time.