Using Excel for Quantitative Skill Development

Thursday 1:30pm-4:00pm Lindley: 307
Afternoon Mini Workshop


Ben Maas, Buena Vista University
This workshop is designed for all geoscience educators who are interested in incorporating data analysis, interpretation, and collection into their classes using Microsoft Excel. During the two and a half hour session, participants will learn steps from the collection of free data available online to the interpretation and display of the data. To accomplish these tasks, workshop participants will work on example assignments to illustrate how data sets can be utilized in courses. The focus of the workshop will be on teaching data analysis and visualization methods such as pivot tables, bubble charts, fixed cell references, independent axes, plotting core data, and the conversion of text files to columns.

Details on Mini-Workshop

Mini-workshop participants are asked to bring a computer that can access the internet. During the majority of the mini-workshop time, participants will be given an opportunity to work through different examples of graphs that are commonly used in geoscience courses. A portion of the session will also be spent highlighting how to format a graph so that the data can be interpreted. Finally participants will be given an opportunity to use the skills learned during the mini-workshop to start working on an assignment they can use in their courses.

This mini-workshop will be interactive and all participants will be actively working on developing Excel skills or on an assignment. All participants are asked to bring a laptop or a tablet that can access the internet. Participants will also be asked to share their homework assignment ideas they develop during the mini-workshop.

Workshop Goals

  • Mini-workshop participants will gain the skills needed to find, download, and process data sets for their courses.
  • Mini-workshop participants will create data tables in Excel from downloaded data sets.
  • Mini-workshop participants will analyze data sets in order to construct graphs common to the geosciences, such as hydrographs, ice/sediment cores, and bubble plots
  • Mini-workshop participants will be introduced to cloud-based data storage and data sharing, using Google Sheets and/or Microsoft Office 365.
  • Mini-workshop participants will start to create a homework assignment using a data set from the mini-workshop

Pre-Assignment for Mini-Workshop

Participants are asked to think of a way that data literacy can be used in their course, or enhanced if they are already doing such activities. Doing so will help maximize the effectiveness of the time given to work on creating a homework assignment or problem set.


Below are websites that have freely accessible data that can be downloaded. These data sets give students the ability to work through the data, giving them the opportunity to interpret the data. These data sets usually have additional columns of data that can be removed by students or by the instructor depending on the intent of the assignment (see below "Separating Text Data in Excel").

PowerPoint Presentation

The presentation given during the mini-workshop is provided below.

Presentation for Workshop (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 5.2MB Jul3 18)

Homework Assignment Examples

PETM homework assignment (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 1.3MB Aug13 18)

Aquifer homework assignment (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 20kB Aug13 18)

Data Sets for Mini-Workshop

Byrd Ice Core (Excel 2007 (.xlsx) 53kB Jul3 18)

Deep Lake Pollen data (Excel 2007 (.xlsx) 67kB Jul3 18)

Nebraska Well Data (Excel 2007 (.xlsx) 27kB Jul3 18)

Bubble Plot Data (Excel 2007 (.xlsx) 19kB Jul3 18)

PETM (Excel 2007 (.xlsx) 67kB Jul19 18)

Separating Text data in Excel

Below is a PDF and word document that explains how to convert text data from websites, such as the USGS and NOAA, into a format that allows you to interpret the data.

How to Separate Text Data into Column Data

Text to columns (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 864kB Aug13 18)

Pictures from the Workshop

Mini-workshop Schedule

1:30: introduction

1:35: Presentation on resources for data sources and examples of "Excel skills" growth by students

  • During a short presentation, an explanation of how to access data from the websites listed above and how to "clean up" the data will be conducted.

  • Examples of graphs students made during freshman year and after developing "Excel skills" will also be shown.

1:50: Introduction of data sets and time to work through data sets

  • During this time, examples of different forms of graphs will be worked on by the mini-workshop participants.
  • Participants will also be given the opportunity to access and download their own data sets.
  • The primary focus will be on graphs that are commonly used in the Earth sciences.

3:00: Create a homework set for your course using a data set from the course

  • Participants will be given time to work on developing a homework assignment or problem set.

3:30: Time for Q & A and "show and tell"

  • Participants will have the opportunity to share the homework assignment or problem set their worked on with the group.
  • Time will also be given for participants to ask and answer questions.
  • If there is time, a group discussion on data literacy will occur.

3:50: Time for session evaluation

4:00: End of mini-session