Learning from Databases: Introduction
Access, MySQL, Oracle, FileMaker Pro... these are all examples of database software widely used in the business world. What happens when you put this kind of software in the hands of young learners? Potentially powerful things!
Long before computers appeared in classrooms, Hilda Taba developed a teaching strategy for developing inductive reasoning in children. As it happens, her ideas lend themselves very well to teaching and learning with databases.
Why use databases? Because they allow us to quickly store, organize, and filter information and to test hypotheses about how the data clumps together. Databases give us an opportunity to find patterns and invent our own categories, a form of thinking that goes well beyond the rote learning that is associated with facts.
Take a pile of index cards or Post-Its. Working with a group of fellow explorers, generate a pile of as many U. S. cities (with populations > 100,000) as you can in five minutes, putting one on each card.
Now, find a way to organize them into piles that have some common characteristics. Decide together how to name these piles. What are the common characteristics that bind the items together in each pile? Are there some items that seem to be only marginally members of a pile? Are there items that you couldn't fit anywhere?
Now scramble the cards and do it again in some other way. What are the names of your new piles? How are they different than the other categorization scheme?
What did you learn about U. S. cities as you went through this exercise? Were there things you didn't know that you learned by listening to the others in your group? Were your categories useful for thinking about new cities as you encounter them?
A few years ago, most database use with K-12 learners involved them directly using software like AppleWorks. Nowadays, it's getting easier and easier to put databases on the web and make them accessible to anyone with a web browser.
We'll explore these in class and get a sense of how to structure a learning experience around a database.
For Further Exploration
Here are some online databases that are crying out for someone to develop a lesson around: