What's the Difference? -- Calculating the difference in wages for a bookkeeper (AA degree) vs. a cashier (no college degree)

Yilin Sun, Ph.D, Seattle Central Community College -Seattle Central Community College is a member of Seattle Community Colleges, a 4-campus district serving students from a diverse background. I teach in the Basic Studies Division and TESOL Teacher Training Proram. My e-mail address is yilsun@scd.ctc.edu.
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In this Spreadsheets Across the Curriculum module, students build a spreadsheet to calculate the accumulating difference in earnings over a ten-year period for a bookkeeper vs. a cashier. The context of the calculation is that a student, currently working as a cashier, is evaluating a decision to pursue an AA degree. The upgrade in wages from cashier to bookkeeper is one consideration. The cost of tuition is another. The module ends by asking the students to compare the two.

The module is designed to help students, especially ESL/ABE (English as a Second Language/Adult Basic Education) students, build confidence in their decision to get a college education.

Learning Goals

My goal for this module is to provide a meaningful activity for ESL/ABE students as they learn basic steps in using Excel to explore a question, and at the same time to develop their quantitative reasoning skills.

Quantitative Reasoning
Students will:
  • Perform addition, subtraction and multiplication using spreadsheet formulas.
  • Calculate the weekly, monthly and annual income of an entry-level job that does not require a college education (Cashier) and one that does (Bookkeeper).
  • Calculate the differences between the two incomes over a period of ten years.
  • Draw a bar chart to illustrate the differences in income between the two jobs.
Students will:
  • Build a spreadsheet and apply appropriate formulas to calculate data and compare differences.
  • Draw a bar chart to illustrate the results.
Language and Study Skills
Students will:
  • Develop an awareness of the advantages of getting a college education.
  • Build confidence in pursuing college education.
  • Learn basic terminologies and skills in mathematics and Excel
  • Become more skilled in quantitative reasoning and problem solving.
  • Increase cognitive/academic language proficiency in oral and written communications to perform academic tasks.
  • Become more ready for college success.

Context for Use

This module would be suitable for high intermediate (Levels 5 or higher) ESL students – or student considering college – to help them develop an awareness of the difference in wages while learning basic Excel skills.

I designed this module for an I-BEST ESL-Accounting course- Introduction to Financial World to help students get useful skills in Excel and get ready for Accounting 210.

Description and Teaching Materials

SSAC2007.LB2328.YS1.1 (PowerPoint 410kB Sep29 07)

This module is a PowerPoint presentation with embedded spreadsheets. Students work though the presentation, answering questions and developing the spreadsheet. If the embedded spreadsheets are not visible, save the PowerPoint file to a disk and open it from there.

This PowerPoint file is the student version of the module. An instructor version is available by request. The instructor version includes the completed spreadsheet. Send your request to Len Vacher (vacher@usf.edu) by filling out and submitting the Instructor Module Request Form.

Teaching Notes and Tips

I encourage instructors to provide advance information to students prior to assigning this module. In a language classroom, a reading on the topic of getting a college education could be discussed prior to this assignment. A handout which lists the basic terminologies in Excel and Math will give students required information to analyze data and create formulas to perform the tasks.

I'd suggest that depending on the students' confidence level and skills in math and English, teachers may provide step-by-step guidance and examples at the beginning before asking students to develop their own questions and formulas to solve problems. Group work is encouraged.


I give an end-of-module assessment at the end of this module. Students will discuss it as a group; develop their questions - a case study to compare the income of two different jobs they choose; submit individual answers to the questions they created; and write a short essay to summarize the findings and advice to other ABE/ESL students.

References and Resources

How to use Excel is a collection of tutorials for students to learn Excel. It is part of the StartingPoint collection at SERC.