Having introduced basic spreadsheet skills to Year 5 using this series of lessons, when the children move up it into Year 6 some consideration needs to be given as to how these skills are going to then be built upon so as to not repeat stuff which they are already familiar and confident in doing.
A few years ago I had the rather fabulous idea of asking them to design a theme park and to then create various spreadsheets to calculate the profit it makes after a year in business (based on the running costs of the rides in it and the money spent by people visiting it). This worked extremely well as it enabled them to apply their spreadsheet skills in quite a fun (and fairly meaningful) scenario whilst also helping them to appreciate the benefits associated with performing calculations with big numbers using ICT at the same time too - notably speed and accuracy. Since then I've tweaked and refined the project into a nice five week block.
For the first lesson, I ask the children to use a spreadsheet template I've created to design a virtual model of their theme park. They are given half a million pounds to spend on putting various rides and amenities into it to make the best park they can which will hopefully make a high profit.
To inspire them with ideas and get them eager to do the project, I show them this video tour of the Islands of Adventure theme park in Florida.
Having watched it, we then discuss what four elements contribute to making a good theme park experience, notably: rollercoasters, gentle rides, cafes/shops and scenery. This helps them to understand that the best parks contain a mixture of the four to create an exciting experience for visitors to enjoy.
Next, I introduce them to the spreadsheet they will be working in to design their parks. Whilst it is pretty simplistic, the children really do love using it - the park consists of a rectangular-shaped grid, into which they simple choose what to put in which cell where by selecting their required item from a drop-down list. The cost of each item is automatically taken away from their £500, 000 budget and the colour of the cell changes too to help visually highlight what sort of item they have put in.
(The workings of the spreadsheet are fairly complex - it involves conditonal formulae and conditional formatting - so I wouldn't recommend you unprotect sheet unless you really know what you are doing.)
The items available to place in the theme park obviously vary in price but also in the number of grid cells they take up. For example, a roller coaster costs £50,000 and needs to take up 12 squares whereas a smaller 'ride' costs £25,000 and needs to take up just half that space - 6 squares. I display all this information on the IWB for the children to refer to.
To prompt them to work at a good pace (and not waste time noseying at others' designs), I set a time limit for this activity of about 25-30 minutes. I also regularly remind the children about designing both an attractive and appealing theme park during the lesson - basically encouraging them to include a mixture of attractions which are joined up together with paths. As the idea is to see whose park makes the most profit, the children need to decide how they how are going to divide up the spending of their loan up and indeed, how much of it they are going to leave unspent in the bank too!
We discuss ways to edit and improve their parks using the delete button on the keyboard to try out alternative designs and to see the effects that this has on their budgets. I point out how this activity is a good example of a spreadsheet model as it is a simplified representation of a real-life scenario, enabling you to easily change the layout of attractions and instantly observe the effects this has on the spending money available.
Once their theme park design is finished, I then ask the children to view the 'prices' tab (showing how many of each attraction they've bought) and get them to record these numbers onto a quick note-taking sheet I made. This serves two purposes - firstly to act as a backup in case one child accidentally doesn't save their work properly (as happened the first year I did the project!) and secondly to enable them to quickly refer to important data in future lessons without having to open and flick between different Excel files (which they found was a bit of an uncessary nuisance in the past).
The lesson isn't particular difficult to deliver so long as you emphasise all the design requirements clearly enough to the children. What it manages to achieve however is much more important - it not only gets the children all excited about using spreadsheets but also gives them some financial data they've created themselves to manipulate in the forthcoming weeks (personalising their work so they can take greater ownership of it).