For Cinnaminson High School science teacher Michael McConnell, creating a method to properly train and instruct teachers and students on spreadsheets and data analysis could change the way math and science are understood.
Before McConnell became a teacher at Cinnaminson, he was a student in the school district. He would later graduate college with a degree in chemical engineering before returning to his alma mater. In 2009, during a professional development workshop, McConnell was speaking to a colleague and stated that his students would be better off with him creating a spreadsheet.
The idea lingered for a few months and then years, but McConnell eventually came back to the idea and tried to figure out a method to get the idea going.
“Over a period of time in 2009, I decided to try and create a product,” said McConnell. “I started with basic instructional materials and it incrementally developed. I started looking for funding around 2017-2018, and that’s when I found the National Science Foundation Small Business Innovation Research. I submitted it to them in December, and I found out about it June 20.”
According to McConnell, the National Science Foundation Small Business Innovation Research is an organization that funds risky ideas that have the potential to impact society and that have the ability to develop into products and brought to the market. During phase one, the organization funds $225,000 to conduct research and development.
“In this case, teachers of math and science develop automated training systems to get students to use spreadsheets for computer modeling,” McConnell said. “It allows students to take advantage of the calculating power for the sake of learning. It gives students the ability to gain skills on a spreadsheet, which is an underutilized tool. A lot of teachers don’t know the full impact with using it.
“A computer can do a billion calculations at once, which is more than someone can do with a graphing calculator or a pen and paper,” McConnell continued. “Computational spreadsheet modeling guides students to use spreadsheet commands and functions to
build realistic models that were previously not possible with traditional mathematics. This leverages the value added of the modern microprocessor to facilitate student-centered, discovery-based learning in STEM education.”
While phase one is not a guarantee, phase two will head into commercialization after the products show progress. In the meantime, McConnell will be getting in contact with math and science teachers around the area as well as superintendents to discuss any problems they may have in regard to teaching.
“Teachers have a lot of material to cover throughout the year and often times they don’t have the resources to get the students where they need to be,” said McConnell. “A lot of teachers do a lot of great things, but this will allow teachers to take advantage of tools that are already in the classroom. Data analysis is the next generation of science. My main goal is to create this tool to make it efficient within the already established curriculum.”