Using Databases in Instruction

external image DATABASE.gif

What are Databases?

A database is a structured collection of information. A list is an example of a database, in its simplest form. The list itself is called a "table", each row of the table is a record, and each piece of information in the record is a field. The image above is a table of contacts, which each record consisting of three fields: name, address, and phone. Databases use powerful computing algorithms to search, sort, and aggregate information.

Relational databases (RDMS - Relational Database Management Systems) are designed to use "key fields" to relate the information in one table to the information in another table. For example, you might have one table called "orders", with each order record having a field with a reference to a specific customer as well as references to the products being ordered. Viewing an order record requires the system to look up the order record as well as the customer and products records, which are found in separate tables. Typically, searching, sorting, and aggregation functions are accessed using a database programming language called Structured Query Language (SQL). Common relational database software includes Microsoft Access, MySQL, Oracle Database, and Microsoft SQL Server.

Another type of database is called an object oriented database (OODB). These are much less common than relational databases. They tend to organize information much more hierarchically, which much more closely models a popular method of software development called Object Oriented Development.

XML (eXtensible Markup Language) is a technology that has recently started to proliferate as a mechanism for storing data. XML uses in-place tags to describe fields, records, tables, as well as provide meta-data on such things as data relationships, type of information, data version, and validation. XML databases look very similar to HTML when viewed "raw".

Learning Theories that Guide the Use of Databases in Instruction

Using a database accesses the kinestetic and spatial components of the Multiple Intelligences learning theory. Using a computer allows hands-on activity, and certain processes and graphics may allow for spatial depth development. Also, students may access information and not arrive at the appropriate conclusion during their first search. Students will need to revise their search to fit their needs. This is a form of constructivism in which students rethink their plans and revise their search in order to arrive at the most desirable conclusion.

The Benefits of Using Databases in Instruction

Databases are great tools for researching. Information and records are very easily accessible to the students, and the volume of records available in one database is growing daily. Students can virtually find all of the information they need in one search of a database. The validity of certain databases are very strong and reliable. Creating a database also requires higher level thinking, analysis, creating, editing, organizing, and evaluating.

The Challenges of Using Databases in Instruction

Some challenges of databases are availability of computers, availability of resources, and access requirements. Although databases are great to research for papers, it may be difficult for a class of 20 to research on a few computers. Researching and searching for the right article takes time. Also, while researching, books and articles may not be readily available to the student or the student may have to pay in order to access the actual document. Meanwhile, this type of instruction is really only used when students are researching a topic. It is difficult to integrate this form of instruction in any other type of daily work unless they are using the database to reasearch articles or books. Because of the instruction involved for teachers and the retention required by students to work with charts and tables and read them with a thorough understanding, databases don't come as recommended for students in elementary school as they are for students in higher grade levels.

Special Guidance for Using Databases in Instruction

There are several Web sites through which you can create a database in minutes. Although most cost a small fee, there are places that you can create your own. It is important to have students create the database and then use the database themselves. There are also many programs one can buy in order to help them create databases. Of utmost importance in developing these skills is that one must understand how to create a database in order to fully utilize all of the characteristics it has to offer.

Database Linksexternal image fmk_6083_form_test_f_rightcol.jpg (study and research tools and links for elementary-school students) (study and research tools and links for middle-school students) (study and research tools and links for high-school students) (software site for note taking and composing bibliographries)