## Balloonists and Bombardiers: Teaching Mechanics with Excel

*Malcolm Anderson*

`manderso@fos.ubd.edu.bn`

Department of Mathematics

Universiti Brunei Darussalam

**Brunei**

### Abstract

The spreadsheet package Excel is useful not only for
numerical calculation, but can also help students check the
results of their analytical work. Excel is easy to
learn and readily accessible to the students at Universiti
Brunei Darussalam (UBD), which gives it an advantage over
more sophisticated computer algebra packages like Maple or
Scientific Notebook.
This talk briefly describes the use made of Excel’s graphing
capabilities in tutorial classes in a third-year mechanics
course at UBD. Working in groups of three or four, the
students were asked to analytically solve a mechanics
problem, usually involving a system of ordinary differential
equations, and to choose the initial or intermediate values
of some of the parameters so as to meet a prescribed
objective, such as landing a balloon safely or firing a
projectile at a target. The students could then check their
results by entering the chosen parameter values into a
specially-prepared Excel spreadsheet which generated a
visual representation of the solution.
The tutorial sessions were enjoyable for everyone involved, and
successfully encouraged the students to hone their
analytical skills while giving them some of the immediacy
associated with solving real-life problems.

© ATCM, Inc. 2002.