Though spreadsheets have been used for hundreds of years by accountants, only recently has the use of computerized spreadsheets been possible. It wasn't until 1978 that a computer program called VisiCalc (short for visual calculator) written by Harvard Business School student, Daniel Bricklin (check out his story at http://www.bricklin.com) emerged. Visicalc was the first "killer" application for personal computers. In fact, much of the early growth of the personal computer industry should be credited to the spreadsheet.
The dynamic powers of the modern spreadsheet have opened new doors to the learning process. These spreadsheets give a user the ability to easily change input data and have the spreadsheet automatically change any output from one or a series of calculations. Other attributes of the spreadsheet include the ability to allow the user to easily discover patterns in numerical data, to graphically display data, and to perform mathematical and logical operations with ease. Farther, Microsoft Excel allows even novice users the ability to combine the powers of a programming language such as Visual Basic making for even greater flexibility than ever before.
Today's world is one in which spreadsheets are used in nearly every business. However, the purpose of this text is not just to provide students with a introduction to the use of spreadsheets. The purpose of this text is instead to use the modern spreadsheet as a tool for solving problems and making decisions. It is intended to help students better understand algorithms and formulas used in finite mathematics. One purpose in using the spreadsheet is to avoid messy arithmetic which may be involved in the search for patterns in data, in solving real-world problems, and/or in making decisions based on the output of an algorithm.
The use of the spreadsheet to "discover" mathematical ideas is ripe with possibilities. One aim of this text is to begin to exploit those possiblities. Another goal of the text is to put less emphasis on routine calculation and more emphasis on the decision process used in setting up a problem and in interpreting a solution.
The text is to be used as a companion to many finite mathematics textbooks such as those written by Armstrong and Davis, Barnett and Ziegler, or Goldstein, Schneider, and Siegel to mention but a few. The exercises serve as the major component to this text. Do the exercises. Mathematics is not a spectator sport!
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