Databases in the Classroom
Computers are useless. They can only give you answers.
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

The opinions teachers have concerning databases in education can be summed up in two simple questions.· What are databases?· Why should I care?

What are databases?

This answer is, obviously, the foundation for the rest of this class. Many teachers aren’t used to using a computerized database (at least by that name). Teachers are, however used to compiling data. Most keep an address book of friends, relatives, and coworkers or supervisors. This is a database. It simply isn’t thought of as one. The concept is the same for computerized databases. Databases can be used to organize and store information such as an address book or a list of books. Databases are used to organize and compare numerical or textual data. The data can be printed like note cards or it can be imported into a form letter. Databases can be used to add structure, helping students doing research on topics like characteristics of animals or environments, or characters in a book.

Research note cards
1. Launch Access.
2. Create a new database. You will have to name the file and save it before you can begin.
3. Choose the tables tab and select Create table in design view.
4. Enter the field names and type of data.
5. Close the table.
6. Choose the forms tab, select New.
7. Choose “Create form by using Wizard”.
8. Select the fields you want on the form, click Next.
9. Select the format you prefer, click Next.
10. Select the style you want, click Next.
11. Select "View the form," click Finish.

Students can now open the form and enter new data as well as view their previously entered data.This can be used for note cards used in science or social studies research or for character studies from literature. It can also be used to store names and addresses for form letters. A database can also be set up to make Mad Lib activities. Students put in words that are a specific part of speech and then merge them to a story. A database is a particularly good way to allow students to practice the parts of speech by making silly Mad Lib stories. However, your field names need to be written as follows: Verb1, Verb2, Verb3, etc.

A Form Letter or Mad Lib story
1. Launch Word.
2. Open a blank document.
3. Type your letter or story.
4. Go to tools, and select "Letters and Mailings," then “Mail Merge Wizard”.
5. Select "Letters", then click on “Next: Starting Document.”
6. Choose "Use the current document", and then choose "Next: select recipients".
7. Select "Use an existing list" and click "Browse…".
8. Choose the database file you want to merge, and the table you want to use.
9. Choose "Next: Write your letter".
10.Find the first word that you want to be replaced with a database field.
11.Delete that word.
12.Click “More items…
13.Select the appropriate field name from the Insert Merge field dialog box, then click Insert.
14.Repeat steps 9-13 for each place in the story that you want to insert a database field.
15.Save the document.
16.Close Word.
17.Launch Access.
18.Open the appropriate database file.
19.Open the form for that file.
20.Enter the data each field requests.
21.Close Access and launch Word.
22.Open the form letter or story.
23.Select "View Merged Data" from the Mail merge toolbar.
24.To print only on one of the merged documents click on the blue arrow on the mail merge toolbar until you can see the document you want to print.
25.Go to File, Print, and select current page, then click OK.

Why?

This gets to the core of what the purpose of technology in education should be. Should the role of technology be to provide enrichment, excitement, entertainment, or an environment for learning? I see technology as providing an environment where students get information that opens the door to more questions. As they get answers, they see more questions, until they can create a product that reflects not only the answer, but also the path that was taken to get there. Databases provide elements that form the foundation of this goal.

Information Collection and Analysis
The real strength of databases in the business world is the collection and analysis of data. It follows that the real strength of databases in the classroom would be the same. One of our charges is to teach kids to do something with the information that they have. A database provides a structure that can guide students as they collect data and enter it in the database. They can then sort the data based on different criteria and analyze the data accordingly. For instance, in the example of animal research, students can sort the data according to range to see all of the animals that are from Africa. They can then see the characteristics that those animals share. Is it the food that they eat that makes Africa a good place for them? Climate? What factors aren’t accounted for? What data do we need to find to get the answer? Students can then begin to use those higher-level critical thinking skills and problem solving skills to take control and ownership of their own learning. As a teacher, you then are responsible for keeping students accountable and making sure that they fully analyze the data. They will need help organizing the data, drawing the conclusions that the data shows, and determining what is missing and needs to be found. This can be done by questioning the students. Use questions to steer the students’ investigation into the topic of study. Here are some suggestions for using databases as you teach some different topics.

Dinosaur Database

I always liked to have students work in groups. The group will be a safety net for those that forget instructions or need help remembering how to do something, and places accountability on the group members according to their roles. The group also provides an environment where the students with poor critical thinking skills can experience a model of good analysis and synthesis skills. Poor problem solvers can experience the process that good problem solvers follow. I found that the lower students began to show growth in their participation with the rest of the group, and it carried over into their individual work.

1. Launch Access.
2. Create a new database named Dinosaur research. After you have finished creating the database, copy it for each of your groups.
3. Choose the Tables tab and select New.
4. Choose "Design view"
5. Enter the following field names and corresponding types of data.
Name
Text
Teeth
Text
Legs
Number
Length
Text
Weight
Text
Diet
Text
Range
Text
Habitat
Text
Extra1
Text
Extra2
Text
Extra3
Text
6. The fields labeled Extra and some additional fields may need to have the input size increased from 50 characters to 250 characters to make room for the students’ information.
7. Close the table.
8. When the dialogue boxes that ask if you want to save changes to the table and if you want to add a primary key appear, click yes for both of them.
9. Choose the forms tab.
10.Choose "Create forms by using Wizard".
11.Select the fields you want on the form, click Next.
12. Select the format you prefer, click Next.
13.Select the style you want, click Next.
14.Select "View the form," and click Finish. Students will use the form to enter data about each dinosaur.
15.Choose the Reports tab.
16.Choose "Create Reports by Using Wizard".
17.Select the fields you want on the report, click Next.
18.In the grouping options, select the field named Teeth.
19.Sort the grouped results by name
20.Select the layout that you prefer, click Next.
21.Select the style you want, click Next.
22.Select "View the form," and click Finish.
23.View, then print the report.

Have the students look at their reports to find any similarities within the grouped results. Example: Look at the results grouped under Sharp teeth. What is the diet of these dinosaurs? What else do all of these dinosaurs have in common? What other conclusions can be reached based on these similarities? How can we check the hypothesis that we have formed? Is there any other data that might prove that our conclusions are correct or incorrect? Ask the same questions about the results grouped under Flat teeth. Next print a report that has the results grouped according to diet. How are these results similar? How are they different? Print a report grouped according to range. Are there any fields that are similar within the grouped results on this report? What conclusions can be drawn using this report? (Diversity of wildlife, appearance, etc.) Print different reports grouping results by each field. What additional information needs to be known about the dinosaurs? Is that information available? Where?Now students are doing more than simply collecting data. They are actually being scientists. Collecting information, analyzing it, drawing conclusions about it and determining what else needs to be known. Remember that when students are conducting research, they need to question the reliability of data. Where does all of our information about dinosaurs come from? What can that tell us? How much of the data can’t be proven by looking at fossils? If it can’t be verified by looking at fossils, then what information could be used to draw that conclusion? How much of that is based on speculation and how much has a verifiable basis in the fossil record. I would end this unit with a project that involves students preparing a scientific report on one of their dinosaurs. Their report would give the conclusions that they have drawn about their dinosaur and list verifiable evidence as well as speculative conclusions and their basis.

Weather DB

Follow the directions for a dinosaur database, except change the name and fields to weather related data. Some ideas might be to record temperature, rainfall, cloud cover and type, wind direction and speed using a simple school weather station in the school grounds. Use their data to explore the nature of weather and weather change over a short period. The students investigate patterns in the data using various forms of presenting the data, drawing conclusions.

Conduct a survey or poll

Have the students conduct a school/community wide survey or poll. Use a topic like, agree or disagree with TAKS test, or, agree or disagree with public officials stands on current issues. First determine the questions and the answer choices. Fewer questions will improve the students’ chances of adequately analyzing the results. A wide range of respondents will give the students more opportunities to recognize trends among different subgroupsOther examples of databasescharacteristics of sea shellscharacteristics of animalscultural differences between New Zealand and South Americainfluential Black Americanssurvey of students, hobbies, most and least favorites, etc.hand span, ankle circumference, length of pacecommunity censusdata from headstones in cemeteryattitudes towards seatbeltslife in the 1200's, e.g. home, clothing, food and social status Remember that the focus is not simply on the collection and simple presentation of the data. Students should group the data in several ways to analyze data and ask questions that lead to conclusions about why and how similarities exist in certain areas and not in others. Databases can be a powerful tool to develop and maintain students’ critical thinking skills and their problem solving skills. The collection and analysis of data should never be the end of endeavor. Students should always use that data and those skills in the creation of a project. It could be a presentation, report, model, or almost any other product as long as it shows the students knowledge and demonstrates the critical thinking and problem solving skills that were employed in the creation of the product.