Database vs. Spreadsheet….The How and Why of It!

Posted: February 23, 2010 in 1.3 Instructional Strategies
Tags: , , , , , ,

Spreadsheet and database software might easily be overlooked as a valuable learning tool in education.  In order to meet the accountability regulations, administrators may quickly provide teachers with access to software for student information, test scores, grade books, student performance data, etc.  Spreadsheets and database programs are beneficial to teachers; however, it is certainly essential that the students be trained to properly use these applications for learning, problem-solving opportunities and the ability to meet today’s technology standards.  For students to achieve success using these technical tools, educators must be fully mindful of the extent that the use of spreadsheet or database applications will realize in helping to improve their students’ learning goals.

What is a Spreadsheet?

A spreadsheet is an electronic worksheet that stores data in rows and columns. An individual cell may contain “numerical values, words or character data, and formulas or calculation commands“. (Roblyer, 2010)  Formulas are used to perform instant numerical operations which make it possible for a student to compare data and explore changes with instant visual results.  Charts and graphs can be supplemented to enhance the organization and evaluation of the work.  The educational advantages of spreadsheets include:

  • Ÿ  Performing numerical operations with visual representation for concrete learning
  • Ÿ  Enhancing a student’s projects with graphs, charts, and data display
  • Ÿ  Encouraging higher level thinking and “what if” problem solving by allowing functions to   complete low level arithmetic
  • Ÿ  Helping students track data from assignments/projects
  • Ÿ  Permitting students to keep track of their grades in order to predict outcomes and     encourage goal setting

What is a Database?

Database software allows users to collect and store information, while providing search engines for easy retrieval of information.  According to Thorsen (2009), databases “provide tools for a skilled user to detect patterns among the facts from which they are built“.  Making predictions, revealing relationships, describing the unknown, making comparisons and effectively problem solving, are just a small number of the capabilities databases provide for our students. Databases should be used to:

  • Ÿ  Help students complete research and look for data among many different organizations
  • Ÿ  Learn invaluable lessons in study skills and organization by relating to the way databases handle information
  • Ÿ  Teach students how data can be organized to show relationships to small pieces of information
  • Ÿ  Question students and encourage them to find information to support their position
  • Ÿ  Practice research skills by locating public databases for analysis

When incorporating spreadsheets and databases into our classrooms, we are empowering students to problem solve and use higher level thinking skills to question, analyze, and explore information.  Students gain an opportunity to use real world tools to gather research and information. As a result, learning becomes more concrete and visual which provides the students with a better understanding of new concepts.  Students become more engaged when they actually see the relevance of their learning and are capable of viewing the results from different perspectives. Students are encouraged to work collaboratively and share information.  These advantages, not only foster the learning process for the student, but the effective use of the technology also provides a sense of accomplishment.

For teachers who are new to Excel and database instruction, internet4classroom.com includes helpful tutorials and resources that can be used by the teacher or your students.  Working together with your student, the use of applications can provide a positive learning experience for both of you.

Thorsen, C. (2009). Techtactics: Technology for teachers (3rd ed.). Boston: Pearson.

Roblyer, M.D., & Doering, A. (2010). Integrating educational technology into teaching. Boston, MA: Pearson Education Inc.

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