Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Sparkline in Google Sheets

Being without internet for a significant amount of time, has changed my perspective of technology use in education. I was victim to this attitude and I see it with many colleagues; since I have access, I just assumed that all my students do as well. As soon as I lost access, I realized that there are still folks out there who have no service at home or have limited access, for various reasons. This helped me redirect my efforts to really enhance technology use in the classroom only, and not push to hard for use outside of school. Not everyone can get online outside of the building. With this new paradigm shift as I finally have service back, I decided to share a nice feature added to Google spreadsheets, that helped make teaching data analysis a bit easier today.

I stumbled upon this great feature today with some students. I had them analyzing weather data for trends to determine how air pressure, humidity, temperature and general conditions are related. They were pouring through three months of data pulled from the Wunderground archives. Students were expected to grab the CSV format data for three consecutive months of this calendar year and dump it into a Google spreadsheet to identify and describe correlations between specific data points. Typically I have students sort data, and create various charts and graphs to help them visualize the relationships, but the new Sparkline feature in a single cell, helped to streamline this process. If you are unfamiliar with this option, all it lets you do is insert a small little trend line in a cell that graphically displays the data selected. Dealing with 3 months of data (which is about 90 days worth of numbers), this tiny visualization quickly showed students if factors were increasing or decreasing. They were then able to use this tiny bit of information to help them analyze larger graphs to draw better conclusions. (On a side note, I still had students struggling with expressing their conclusions through good scientific writing, but they will get there).

So, here's how to use this nice new feature.

  1. Create a Google Sheet
  2. Input some line or column of data
  3. At the end of the cell type "=Sparkline" and let the built in google helper take over from there. 
  4. This function will drop a nice little graphical represnetaion of your data in the cell. There is some information lacking, but it will show you general increases or decreases in data. Students loved it. 

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