What are they?
As a computer teacher, I have introduced my students to a diverse set of tools and technologies that had varied impact on their learning. Some of those tools posed a serious challenge to how accustomed they became relying on a singular form of knowledge representation. For example, when they studied social studies, it was always done chapter by chapter, making sure that everything said about a civilization is covered to the last sentence. Yet, when asked to compare and contrast what they learned to other civilizations living in the same period of time, they became lost. Not only because they did not know enough about those other civilizations, but because comparing and contrasting were not cognitive skills they were accustomed employing. I started toying with the idea of using databases as tools for facilitating higher level cognitive skills via their ability to reorganize information by sorting, looking for information by searching and posing queries. Looking at information stored in databases allows students to gain alternative perspectives on the same information and therefore better interpret, analyze, and meaningfully organize subject content. I thought students could gain even more by becoming creators of databases rather than just use them. By constructing their own databases, students develop the data structure, find relevant information, insert the information in fields and records, and conduct searches, sorts and queries on the final product. The cognitive benefits from building a database affects the student’s critical thinking skills—evaluating, organizing, and connecting information, creative skills—analogical reasoning and planning, and complex thinking skills—designing a product, problem solving, and decision making (Jonassen, 1996).
The 20 th Century and Book Report databases are projects in which I partially try to apply the learning concepts mentioned above. For a detailed description of those projects, click on the relevant link on the right. These projects were created with FileMaker Pro—a database engine known for its user-friendly interface and relatively easy scripting language.