a program. To enable this process of
manipulation, computer scientists organize this data in structures known as
arrays, lists, trees, tables, stacks, queues
and “heaps.” A database, similarly, is
an organized collection of data, usually
stored as records in tables.
Fortunately, we have access to
spreadsheet software such as Microsoft Excel and database management
software such as Microsoft Access that
could be used to introduce students
to the fundamentals of data structures
for organization and management.
Free or low-cost alternatives of such
software are also available.
Spreadsheets can teach students
how to organize data in simple, intuitive ways for easy access and retrieval.
Children should be encouraged to use
spreadsheets often and for a variety of
data-organization tasks. For example,
students could list and organize websites they visit for a school project or
while researching a topic. Have students add keywords or tags to another
column in the spreadsheet. They can
organize the website data in separate
worksheets for different units in a
subject so that the organization helps
delineate data that doesn’t necessarily
belong together while still keeping related materials together. Spreadsheets
can also be used for storing and organizing data for planning field trips
or events, or for data collected in science or social studies projects. Google
Spreadsheets allow several students to
work on the same spreadsheet.
Teachers should also use spreadsheets to introduce students to the
idea of sorting and ordering data.
When does it make sense to sort or
order data, and when is unordered
data just as useable? Will sorting help
future storage and retrieval? If so, how
should the data be sorted? Such questions will get students thinking about
the basics of organizing data in ways
that make manipulation easy.
Students in middle school who have
been exposed to spreadsheets could
graduate to databases with a database
management tool like Microsoft Access. Through the process of database
design, students learn to analyze the
information they are working with
and identify the underlying dimensions of the content to organize it for
meaningful search and retrieval. They
learn to identify relationships between
different types of data. Through the
act of simple database querying, students can bring to bear their knowledge of Boolean logic and constructs
such as and, or, and not while getting
a sense of how the process of Internet
search is conducted.
Teachers can get their students to
engage in simple projects with clearly
defined goals. A database that helps
retrieve children’s books in the library by genre is one example. Such
a project would require students to
analyze the nature or elements of the
data to be organized, design the database, populate the tables with data,
and, finally, formulate and run simple
queries. Database design also helps
students build analytical, critical-thinking, and problem-solving skills.
At a time when we all grapple with
a surfeit of data and information, being able to classify and organize it for
sense-making as well as easy and intuitive access and retrieval is certainly a
skill that children of this Information
Age should develop early in school.
All three skills and concepts described above—algorithmic thinking,
Boolean logic, and data structures—
could be easily integrated into the
elementary and middle school math,
language arts, social studies, science,
and technology curriculum, and
would work well to expose students
to a few basic ideas of the “science of
—Shuchi Grover is an educational technologist
with graduate degrees in computer science and
education. An alumnus of Harvard University,
she is currently pursuing a PhD in the Learning
Sciences and Technology Design Program
at Stanford University.
For a full list of upcoming
Professional Development Webinars
or to register, go to www.iste.org/webinars
▪ Member price $50
▪ Non-member price $125
ISTE All-Access Pass
The All-Access Pass is only $795 and grants the pass holder access
to all webinars and archives for
the 2009–10 season. At $795 for
members and $1,975 for nonmembers, the All-Access Pass
provides savings of more than
50%. Remember, ISTE membership
is only $92, so joining will help you
save even more on webinars and
other ISTE products.
an All-Access Pass and
receive this 2GB flash drive
and lanyard as our gift to
you (quantities limited).
ISTE encourages All-Access Pass holders to bring a team together in one location and watch the live webinar or the archive. Share the resources, save money, and learn together as a team!
Member since 2007
IN PRACTICE webinars
November 2009 | Learning & Leading with Technology 29