Learning how to teach (Excel)

ImageThis guest post comes to us from Nicolette Tan, a junior in the College studying political science. She wrote this reflection essay during her participation in MGMT 353 Wharton Field Challenge in fall 2013. WIC staff assisted students in the seminar taught by Arjun Bhaskar and Samaira Sirajee with guidance from Professor Keith Weigelt in learning how to present Excel skills to small business owners in Philadelphia.

It’s one thing to know how to use Excel yourself; it’s another to be able to teach it.  Today’s workshop definitely showed me that teaching is hard, and even more so when you’ve only met these people for the first time. The class got off on a high note, when Grace asked the class to “Raise your hand if you’re excited about learning Excel!” and people cheered and raised their hands enthusiastically. One thing that strikes me every time is the positivity that the students bring to the class, and how eager they are to improve themselves – regardless of age or background, and I have so much respect for that.

The syllabus for the day was simple – graphs, forms and the basic functions. Grace took the class through graphs, and Arjun did forms and functions. Today’s workshop really embodied Benjamin Franklin’s quote: “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” Having the participants practice through the Excel sheets with mini-activities was very helpful, especially for the TAs because it created an exact context in which they were asking their questions.

My favorite activity was probably the one we did with Starbursts! We distributed 10 Starbursts at random to each participant, and got them to practice making graphs reflecting the data. People were very excited about having Starbursts and that definitely upped the interest value of the activity! With real world applications, people also were better able to make their own connections – they started thinking about how they could use Excel graphs to visualize their own expenses and income.

One thing that I feel was difficult to grasp was how much people already knew about Excel, and what the pace should be for the class. Different people were at different levels of ability, and to pace the class so that everyone took something away was hard. Perhaps we should have split the class into two so that we could better meet individual needs, and that’s something to take away for next time. Also, I think one thing that might be good would be to set overall expectations for the class – have them know that what we aim to do is not make them experts, but expose them to the basics.

As a TA, I feel like I managed to do more on a 1-1 basis, and I only wish I could have talked individually to more people and understand their needs. The main takeaway though, was to have everyone become more confident about trying out formulas on Excel independently, and be exposed to the way that Excel can be used efficiently to capture and present data. I think we achieved that, despite the challenges we faced. For example, I went round telling people that now that they knew the importance of the = sign in front of functions, so having learnt =SUM() they could try =AVERAGE(), =NOW(), etc., exploring with all the different formulas and see what is relevant to them.

Overall I think today’s class was an good testing ground to see what worked and what didn’t for the class, and we got a lot of feedback that will be useful for the next two classes! Also, this might be a really tiny thing, but as a TA in the class, I was essentially a nameless helper. So when a lot the participants asked for my name, and thanked me personally for my patience and attention, I felt very appreciated, and it really made my day  🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s