The Use of Spreadsheets and Service-Learning Projects in Mathematics Courses

In the Indiana University system, as well as many other schools, finite mathematics is a prerequisite for most majors, especially business, public administration, social sciences, and some life science areas. Statisticians Moore, Peck, and Rossman (2002) articulate a set of goals for mathematics prerequisites: including instilling an appreciation of the power of technology and developing skills necessary to use appropriate technology to solve problems, developing understanding, and exploring concepts. The paper describes the use of Excel spreadsheets in the teaching and learning of finite mathematics concepts in the linked courses Mathematics in Action: Social and Industrial Problems and Introduction to Computing taught for business, liberal arts, science, nursing, education, and public administration students. The goal of the linked courses is to encourage an appreciation of mathematics and promote writing as students see an immediate use for it in completing actual real-world projects. The courses emphasize learning and writing about mathematics and the practice of computer technology applications through completion of actual industrial group projects. Through demonstration of mathematical concepts using Excel spreadsheet, we stress synergies between mathematics, technology, and real-world applications. These synergies emphasize the learning goals such as quantitative skill development, analytical and critical thinking, information technology and technological issues, innovative and creative reasoning, and writing across the curriculum.