Why Teach Databases?

Last night I began to write the lesson plans for a short unit on Introducing Databases to Year 3. Historically this unit has always used the QCA unit 3B “Introducing Databases” as its basis. As I started looking at this unit with all its technical vocabulary, key ideas and techniques I began to think – why do we teach databases to year 3? I wanted to make sure I focused on what the children were learning – is it the skills of creating a database and understanding the terms field and record or is it the understanding that information can be stored and sorted using technology?

 As I thought about this I posed the question via Twitter and was amazed by the response. A very interesting, thought provoking discussion followed with several people joining in to offer their opinions. Within this post I will try and pull some of these opinions together and conclude with how I am now going to introduce databases to our Year 3’s.

 When I first posed the question ‘why teach databases’ on Twitter the first responses were along the lines of:

 “QCA told us to?”

 “I always wonder why 8 year old children would want to know how to create databases.”

 “at the moment it’s part of the statutory national curriculum.I’ll only be doing it a little bit of it in my school”


 “Just don’t bother. Put your efforts into something the kids will be interested in!”

 To be honest this made me wonder even more about why, according to QCA, we should introduce databases in Year 3. The point about why 8 year old children would want to know how to create databases was a key one. I always try and make everything I teach relevant for the children as well as interesting. Many people suggested using things such as phone books and Argos catalogues as examples of databases.

“I start with the dictionary & phone book. Talk about order. Then ask them what databases they think they are on. Register, nhs”

 Class registers were mentioned as a database in which the children themselves feature but none of these examples seemed to me that they would really appeal to an 8 year olds imagination.

 What I was really wary of was concentrating on the technique of adding information and creating a database as this seemed to be something that most people felt could come later in the children’s school life. Many tweets did say that it was important for children to understand how databases work and how they can be used to manipulate information.

“can i just add Chris that in the real world manipulation of data is hugely valuable and should not be underestimated”

 These tweets, however, focused on secondary or real-world experiences. This made me then pose the question – Do we teach how to create databases in Year 3 and 4 and then forget about them. The conversation also began to explore the issue of how much ICT should be embedded in other subjects; for example, should Branching Databases be covered in Science and how it should all be topic based. I’m avoiding this line of discussion simply because in my situation I teach ICT as a completely separate subject for all year groups. I do try and make connections with what they might be studying in other subjects but it’s not always that easy.

The overall theme from the discussion was that the important thing for children to understand was that technology can help us store and sort information easily and quickly. Children use manmy forms of databases every day and take much of it for granted. The ability to use technology to help them find answers and pose questions by manipulating information in databases became the focus for the lessons I was about to plan for.

“collecting structured data allows them to formulate, analyse and answer questions about their world.”

 I also wanted to ensure that the children would be engaged by the lessons and would enjoy their introduction to databases and so decided to build the unit around Top Trumps. Whilst in Toys ‘r’ Us looking at baby stuff I bought a few sets of Top Trumps and also found some Top Trump books in the Works. I want to use these cards to show the children an example of a database and to begin with basically let the children play, manipulating information in the database, as they do so.

 We can then go on to talk about how easy it is to find specific information in a set of Top Trumps cards, how quick it would be to order them or put them into groups according to specific criteria. I am thinking of sharing out one set of cards to the class and then getting the children to actually move themselves into order and arrange themselves into groups. Only after the children have had some fun with the cards will we then introduce them to a computer-based database. In fact the first two lessons I have in mind don’t involve computers at all. We’ll be focusing on the I in ICT, not the T. I have started to build a 2Investigate database using the Marvel Heroes Top trumps book (hopefully that will interest most of the children) and will set the children questions to answer by sorting and grouping the information within the database.

 I was going to list all of the people who contributed to the discussion but there were simply too many so I’ll just say a huge thank you to you all. Special thanks though to @chrismayoh, @NeilAdam, @reallara and @ict4mfl who all proof-read this post for me.

11 thoughts on “Why Teach Databases?

  1. Not databases per se, but the idea of reusing information in multiple ways is a critical part of ICT.

    Eg. Styles in Word/OpenOffice, Presentation templates, CSS, normalised tables.

    I see so much inefficient use of ICT purely because people haven’t understood this key concept.

  2. Have you considered using Flickr and tag based folksonomy as an introduction to the value of databases? Kids use Google Images or Youtube all the time. The fact that videos are tagged on youtube allows the system to find images. But rather than use video, do something fun with user-tagged photos and show how a database can find all those images related images, not from an alphabetical listing or from the names in the photos, but via the user-contributed tags.

    Show them Flickr mashups like Spell with Flickr http://metaatem.net/words/ which gives them an immediate understanding of how database queries can find useful creative stuff that the kids can have a lot of fun with.

    Then show them spelling with Google Earth, which takes it to another creative extreme, database queries to create some artistic fun they can email their families etc. http://www.geogreeting.com/main.html

    – Ian

  3. Databases don’t get forgotten about after year 4 surely. My year 5’s love doing work on finding errors in databases. I think that the use of computers for storing data is a big issue and children need introducing to how this information can be wrong or misused. Too many children think that if it is on a computer, then it must be correct. Whether year 3’s need to make their own is a very valid question though. If it can be made relevant, then yes. I think Top Trumps is a great idea.

  4. To be honest, in the past I had never seen the value of looking at databases as a part of the programme of study for ICT. Nothing ever connected – I would ask myself, do my class really want to spend a few weeks putting together a database on eye colour, a phone book, a register? Why? What’s the end result?
    I’m still skeptical but one resource has made databases ‘cool’ and that is Top Trumps. Like yourself, I have found these cards to be invaluable to gain interest in a rather mundane part of the ICT curriculum.

  5. A brilliant idea. I tried it out on my 8 year old son who loves numbers and top trumps. It got us talking about spreadsheets, headings and how to sort data. We asked older brother who is studying A2 Maths how he thought we should calculate the best cards and then gave some thought as to how we could work out the best card in the pack. So much learning! By the time I got back from dropping off said elder brother at work the 8 year old had made a new data base of musical instruments and ranked them according to loudness, coolness etc. Wonderful stuff!

  6. A great post, Chris, but as I said during our Twitter discussion the other day, I still don’t ‘get’ the need to teach children the mechanics of a database in primary school. Yes, I understand the benefits of children being able to sort and group information, and for them to understand that ICT can be used to do this more efficiently, but for me it doesn’t quite constitute a unit of work.

    Will be very interesting to see how you get on 🙂

  7. A similar idea of using active/experential learning to teach databases (but aimed at 14-16yrs – adults) is Chaos to Database which simulates the idea of ordering goods from a catalogue (by phone). There is a full set of resources (cards etc) that can be download.

    There is also a follow-up database activity called Phoenix Circus School and a popular resource for introducing the value of spreadsheets (again aimed at 14+) called Mias’s Sandwich shop.

    All the resources can be found at http://tlp.excellencegateway.org.uk/teachingandlearning/downloads/default.aspx#/ict_active

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