The 20th century database project was created in 1999 to celebrate the most important events and highlights of the century. The sixth graders of Campbell Hall School were busy summarizing those events as they occurred in different categories of life. Those included: Politics and Current Events, Life and Style, Art, Music, Science, and Sports. As I was following their project, I thought it would be much more beneficial for the students to be able to record their findings in a database by contributing each of their parts to the big picture of the 20th century. I created a template for each category and installed it on every machine in the lab. Students conducted research and made summaries of their topic. Then they accessed their templates and typed their summary in fields. When all students completed the task, I merged the records into their respective files and established relationships to interconnect between the databases. The outcome was the ‘Cross Category Database’. With records titled: “What Happened Between 1900 – 1910”, displaying all the events of that decade, the entire century was covered.
When this project was created, it was impacted by a parallel existence of two entities: the classroom and the computer lab. Each of these entities had their own curriculum and rarely cooperated. I was teaching computer education, while the classrooms led their own curriculums. As technology curriculum coordinator, I tried to inject technology into existing classroom projects. The 20th Century Database became such an attempt. Students’ contributions fit right into the big picture of the 20th century, which they were now able to view in different perspectives, analyze, compare and contrast, determine cause and effect, and satisfy their own queries. The experience of building the whole from many little parts changed their interpretations of the data that was presented. However, it could have had a greater impact on student learning if students built it. Unfortunately, at the time, classroom teachers did not consider databases as tools for improving their students’ thinking skills, but rather as isolated computer skills that their students are learning. As a result, time for those activities was allocated accordingly and we ended up not having enough time to accomplish that goal.
If I had to do this activity again, I would probably start with the teachers. A presentation about the power of databases with some basic database design skills can help them create their own representations of different data sets. Empowered with this new technology and the potential of improving their students’ cognitive skills, classroom teachers can lead their own database projects, while getting tech support when needed. The impact on student learning is much more impressive, when the goal of using the technology is to improve students’ thinking skills rather than computer skills.