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Spreadsheets for Inquiry




A spreadsheet, as a number-crunching tool, has found widespread use in various administrative tasks in educational settings, such as maintaining budgets, recording/calculating grades, etc. When used in a data-driven, inquiry-oriented instructional setting, spreadsheets can be a powerful tool for developing and deepening student understanding.

Applying the Inquiry Model

A good teacher can use the Reflect and/or Ask stage of our inquiry model to spark interest in a topic or issue by proposing questions or problems. This provides a learning "hook" so that students will begin to ask their own questions and seek answers.

We will examine a bag of M&M candies to illustrate the organization and simple analysis of data possible in a spreadsheet. As you work through the steps of the inquiry model, fill in this Inquiry Report form with your questions and answers.


  • Do you have favorite color (flavor) of M&M's?
  • Have you ever noticed the predominant color of candy in a bag of M&M's?
  • Are all bags of M&M's identical?

Ask—What are some questions you can think of?


  1. Download and open the Excel file to record your data.
  2. Open your bag of M&M's, and sort the candies by color. Record the amounts in your designated sample column.
  3. Share your data with other groups in your section, and record their data in the appropriate columns.


  1. How much variability exists among the various samples? Same number of candies? Same number of each color?
  2. How does the Mars company fill the bags? Is there a way to determine what the "ideal" number of colors is supposed to be? What could you do with your data to try to find some possible answers to these questions?
  3. Manipulate your data to see what connections you can make from the abundance of information available to you (averages, percentages).
  4. Create a bar graph of your results, and compare with the other section.


  • What percentage of colors do you think the company is aiming for?
  • How confident are you that you have determined the company's target percentages?
  • Based on the data, do you think Mars company tries to fill the bags by number, or by some other criteria?


Compare your results with the numbers Mars Company provides on this particular product. How would you rate their quality control?



See the Resources page for additional information relating to today's topics.

Clip art licensed from the Clip Art Gallery

The Inquiry Page

Concept to Classroom – Workshops on Inquiry Learning, Constructivism, Webquests, Multiple Intelligence's, etc

Center for Inquiry-Based Learning

Exploratorium Institute for Inquiry

teAchnology's page on Inquiry-based Learning