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

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, 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.

Relative Advantages of Educational Software

“Your children do not need the computers or lab time.  Having a video arcade is not part of the curriculum!”  This comment frustrates me as an educator.  Perhaps to the untrained eye, my students look like they are playing games.  The familiar cartoon characters, the colorful graphics, the fun sounds, and the look of pure excitement on the children’s faces could be confusing to someone who is untrained in technology.   They do not recognize the quality of learning coming from what is on those computer screens.  The excitement and motivation alive in the classroom is not exactly what one may picture when they think of a child studying.  The terrific news is that students do not have to sit quietly at a desk, listening to a teacher, while trying to write succinct notes, in order to achieve.  Educational software offers students a wide variety of new and exciting ways to learn, problem solve, and collaborate with peers

I have read countless articles stating that students have to “unplug” before they enter their school building.  Children are constantly playing video games, using online communication and never leave home without their cell phone.  Instead of fighting their use of the newest gadgets and gaming adventures, educators can entice student learning by incorporating approved software into daily activities. Software comes in five different categories from which to choose:   drill and practice, tutorial, simulation, instructional game, and problem solving.  One of them will prove beneficial to any classroom setting.  Education World (staff, 1996-2010) lists many reviews of software and is a wonderful starting point.

There are important questions that must be answered before having your students use any software in the classroom. In what part of the curriculum will I implement software?  What learning objective do I have for my students?  Does this software provide educational benefits for learning?  Is this software going to meet the needs of all my students?  Will my students be able to use this software successfully?   Software has relative advantages when it is incorporated into a students’ learning with direct planning and assessment. Integrating Educational Technology into the Curriculum (Roblyer, 2010)gives educators and administrators a Software Evaluation Checklist to help guide the decision process in determining if a certain software will accomplish the desired goals set for the children.

Students learn at different levels, depending on the subject matter or possible learning disadvantages.  The amazing aspect of educational software is that its delivery method is appropriate for visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners.  I have not met a student yet, in my 17 years of teaching all ages, that was not thrilled at the idea of using a computer.

I encourage all teachers to test drive educational software with their students.  If selected properly, you may be surprised by the results.  You cannot judge the effective use of technology from the outside looking in.  The only way to know if technology software works for you is to try it. My mantra is “Learn by Doing”.  That is exactly how my passion for technology blossomed.  I dove in head first and haven’t drowned yet.  You can too!

Roblyer, M. D. (2010). Essential Criteria Checklist for Evaluating Instructional Software. Retrieved Feb. 10, 2010, from Integrating Educational Technology into Teaching (5th Edition) Companion Web Site:

staff. (1996-2010). Educational Technology. Retrieved February 14, 2010, from Education Word Web Site: