A Lesson Plan - An Introduction to Databases

Using Rolodexes and PDAs

Activity Title: Introduction to Databases: Adjustable to second grade and up

Students encounter databases on a daily basis, but they are often invisible to them. This lesson builds on prior awareness of databases and teaches some practical reading, writing and database skills using rolodexes and handheld computers. As the content of a database can come from any content area, this lesson can be used for the more in-depth study of ideas across all content areas. This might be taught as a whole group activity with high school and community college students or as a series of centers within the classroom with younger students.

Language Arts Skills: Students must research, read and collect different types of data so that their entry of information into the database includes single words and phrases, numbers, at least a full sentence quote and the creation of 1 or more complete sentences of comments.

Name your content area such as Science, Math, Social Studies, Spelling. From one of these content areas select a sub-topic of study. Discuss this topic with the librarian or media specialist to make sure there is adequate information for a number of students to explore and find the data needed to complete database records that would meet the language arts skills above.

Understanding database concepts and procedures.

Construct Rolodex databases of contacts, spelling words, and content area topics.

construct a PDA contact database of classmates.

For several weeks students will have had experiences learning to use and search the school library's computer search system to find books of interest to them, either using the school library's computers or a computer workstation in the classroom. Increasingly, schools may have a wireless signal and students would have used wireless handheld computers to search for books of interest and then gone to the library to get them.

Students might have had a homework assignment with a requirement to get a set of information that will be entered in the database.

Students should also have had several prior experiences learning the PDA's system for writing, sometimes called Graffitti in the Palm Operating System. This experience should include some experience with the letter writing game called Giraffe or other games of that type.

Materials and equipment 
On overhead of a database record from the computer screen of a search of the library's book collection database. Circle and label the field names.

A set of questions that can later be asked of the data that will be place in the database(s) after it is entered both during the lesson and in later lessons.

A set of handheld computers, from 5-7 PDAs, if doing centers or enough for one for each student in the class if doing a whole class activity.

A set of 3-4 plastic desktop rolodex units which can be purchased for just a few dollars at a business supply store or center and enough of the cards so that each student in the class will have one. If doing the centers concept then 3 to 4 rolodexes, one per center and one for a whole class introductory activity.

Work on "real world" relevance. Show overhead of record from the computer screen of a search from school computer. Discuss the term field name and book collection as a database of book records.

Demonstrate completed rolodex as paper database if school secretary will loan the one from the office. Do a search of Google.com's image database for "rolodex cards" and show a couple of examples of how companies make them fancy. Some cards in the school rolodex may be made of plastic with pictures and color and might be passed around.

Whole class  activity. Student at each seat has a rolodex card which has preprinted fields for contact information. Each card is a record; each item on the card is a field. The collection of cards makes a database. While discussing the concepts of field (category), record and database, students complete cards.

Students add fields for height and date. If this is known, they can enter it or plan a trip to the health room or school nurse to "research" their data at a later date.

Complete rolodex cards and assemble by having students add their card, organizing the rolodex by ordering cards in order of last name. Ask question based on last name, such as "what is Tom's phone #? Then ask question based on height; ask question based on something very hard to sort out on paper such as who is tallest and shortest. Discussion how rolodex cards would have to be re-ordered by height to make such a search go quickly.

Distribute PDAs to class divided into teams. Have students start the Address application by either tapping the button at the bottom of the PDA or tapping that file name on the House (Home) screen. Tap New card button in PDA address book. (See Address List to the left.)

In the blank record, have them complete entry in the given fields or what ever number of fields that can be done within the time allowed, perhaps just name and telephone number. (See blank Address Edit record to the right.) Explore the Details and Note buttons at the bottom of the screen. Once they have completed the needed information, tap the Done button.




Every one on the team must complete their address information on their PDA. (See completed Address Edit to the left.) It will be necessary to tap the up and down black triangles to see the entire set of Address information.

Next, once the completed record is showing, each them to beam it to everyone on the team. Beam Receive in Prefs must be turned on in order for someone to receive. (See highlighted Beam Address command on the right.) The Beam Address will beam the record of the selected person or contact. To shorten the set up process further, further down this menu is a command called Select Business Card to set which address is your personal business card data. In future meetings, one can go straight to the Beam Business Card command without having to scroll through your address list to find your own name.

After everyone on the team has everyone's card, a team leader beams all the team's records to the other team captains. The ones just collected will default to being in the category of Unfiled record.

The upper right of the screen will show this label. Once the list view of all the records is showing, the entire Category of Unfiled records (or any other defined set of records) on the PDA can be sent as a set.

Once every team captain has the data from every team, they should beam the entire set to each member of their team; each person sends to someone until all have a complete set. (See image of Beam Category of Unfiled on the left.)

Now ask a phone number question or other data based on knowing someone's last name. Note that as each letter of someone's last name is entered, the PDA address book gets closer to the actual name. (See search Look Up the letter h on right. )


After finding a couple of answers in the PDA address database, return to using the rolodex units.

Assign each team to start a different rolodex database that will be finished in later lessons during discussion of other topics. Data will need to be pre-provided so that one or two cards can be completed and put on their team's rolodex during this lesson. Now need rolodex with lined cards but not preprinted fields. Each card will need a field for the name of the card's researcher (name or initials or nickname of student who provided the data). Suggestions for other rolodex databases include words for spelling and terminology (fields of word, pronunciation, definition); important events in social studies or history (fields of date, event, location, key figures); plants and animals in science (fields of animal name, location, size, length, etc.); useful products (item, cost, weight, company name, telephone number, email address, web site, description) which provides a set of numbers useful in mathematics instruction. This start of the rolodex sets up research projects that may go on for weeks or months as students collect additional information for their rolodex. After some period of time, teams might trade rolodex's or these databases move to a center for anyone in the class to add to.

Depending on frequency of access to PDAs, some rolodex projects might be transferred at some point to a PDA database software application, one besides the PDA address book.

Evaluation of Lesson:
Can things be kept moving along to complete the equivalent of 3 records for each participant within a 50 minutes of a lesson?

Of students: 
Brief five question quiz that requires them to find information in the PDA address book and also asks some basic database concepts/terms. 



Continuing with various databases, students would get individualized and remediation attention by aide or teacher.


Place the started rolodex's in centers and challenge students to extend them.

Point out the general purpose database application on the teacher workstation and school computer lab and/or a general database tool on the PDA and the location of tutorial resources that would teach more about using this tool to create further applications.

Special Needs: 
Discuss activities with special education teachers before the assignment to determine if they can carry out pre- and follow-up activities to this lesson.


Use this section to reflect on strengths and weaknesses of how this teaching experience went.

This lesson includes computer adaptation with PDAs; enrichment suggestion includes further database activity with database software on desktop computers.

Return to Database Chapter  |  Printer friendly view of page.  |  Back to Ch5 PDA Tutorial

Updated July 28, 2005 | Page Author:  Bob Houghton