Using Computer Databases In The Classroom


What's All the Hype?

In the last ten years, there has been a tremendous shift in the way business is conducted both on-line and off-line. To some extent, software has had an impact on the velocity and quality output of the products and services by the top companies. It seems that today's marketplace is driven by software. As of late, domestic and international business has become more of a science than an art. This is driven by database software.

Ranging in complexity from a simple list of phone numbers to the genotypic traits of all the organ donors in North America, databases are unchallenged for the storage and/or retrieval of comparative information. You have used a database to some extent and probably have not even known it. Have you ever signed up for a web-based email account? Or, do you have color settings on your MSN, Excite, Netscape? Well, then, you used a database! Have you received junk mail either as electronic or snail mail? In this case, you were a victim of a database. Do you receive product recommendations from companies you have made past purchases with? Or, have you ever used a search engine of any kind? Then you, too, have used a database.

Many IT industry analysts have indicated that the number one business software application used by companies as a whole is database software. How do you think your student's report cards get mailed home so quickly? Yes, database use is just as prevalent at schools, but mostly at the administration level.

This tutorial will discuss the use of databases in the classroom. We'll give you a few examples of how to use them and also talk about top database applications like Microsoft Access.

An Example of Database Use

Situation: You're a social studies teacher trying to have an impact on students regarding the horror of war. You also have been trying all year to create an interdisciplinary tie with your school's mathematics curriculum. Well, you can use a database to accomplish this goal. The following is a suggestion that can be applied for many topics or subject areas.

1. On day one, you would have students surf the WWW locating data on the numbers of causalities and people wounded in historical wars. By the conclusion of this class, your students would then turn in either an electronic or hard copy data sheet.

2. On day two, students are assigned the task of establishing a database upon which the following could easily be identified:

  • A ranking from greatest to least; which battle caused the most casualties.
  • A ranking of the continents; which continent had the most casualties of war to least.
  • A ranking of which terrain (i.e., land, air, sea) has seen the most casualties.
  • A ranking of which 50 year time period was the most deadly.

3. On day three through five, students get approval from teachers and begin to create the database.

4. On the final day of the project, students present their findings to the class.

5. Optional activities can include debating about the reliability and validity of the data.

How Does the Use of a Database Enhance Learning?

One of the most salient points to consider when evaluating the importance of the creation and use of databases in the classroom is their ability to be revisited throughout the year. They can serve as a year long unit at the K-12 level.

Creating a database of any kind requires students to critically think from the very beginning. Maintaining that same database requires students to revisit those initial levels of thought and move to a higher plane of thought. Manipulating a database requires students to basically "Think Outside the Box!" It enables students to reach higher levels of thinking as students:

1) identify unique characterisitcs of the data;

2) find qualities of the data to compare and contrast; and

3) take that same data and rank the importance of that data for themselves.

It is safe to say that this type of learning event connects nicely with Bloom's Taxonomy.

Consider the following: A teacher assigns students the task of creating a database of their grades for the entire year. In the first month of school, students create a database that identifies all of their teachers, courses, and types of assessments they receive. In the second month, students begin to input the data. This continues throughout the year. This may require a 30-minute block of time each month. At the end of each grading/marking period, students are asked to determine their own grades in each course as well as identify which form of assessment is giving them the most trouble. Imagine, students would be able to identify their strong and/or weak areas. They can identify their learning style and have quantifiable proof to back it up. It can be a valuable lesson for students and can enhance their learning experience.

Top Applications

Most of today's databases have built-in functions that make them much easier to use than databases just a few years old. For the purpose of our discussion we are focusing on of-line databases that you would have full access to in a typical classroom situation. As you advance, you may want to look at online database such as MYSQL and MS-SQL.

Whenever the topic of database software comes up, there are usually one of three applications that are worth mentioning:

1. FileMaker Pro- This application is extremely easy to use thanks to its over 50 built-in user templates that get you started. Yet, it has comparable power to other applications on the market.

2. Lotus SmartSuite's Approach- This application is known for ease of use. It is, hands down, one of the easiest database packages to learn. Yet, we rarely see it being used in schools.

3. Microsoft Access- This application is, hands down, the most powerful mainstream database software available. If a school instructional technology program includes database software, it will usually include Access. A major advantage to Access is it's scalability; it grows with you. Whether you're using a database of 20 names or 20,000, it handles the database runs just as smooth.

Learn Database Applications

Below you will find a number of sites that can help you learn the basic use of Databases:

1. CNET's Beginners Center-

2. FunctionX Access Tutorial-

Introductory-level MS Access tutorial covers topics ranging from creating databases to beginning VBA development. Exercises are included.