chapter  4
Pages 12

All good science work involves clear and accurate recording, and this is where the use of a spreadsheet can play an important role. Databases are ideal for manipulating data, especially searching, sorting and displaying the resultant information in a variety of ways. However, there are certain types of data that they cannot easily handle, such as numerical information that may have been collected as a result of a tally chart or similar, such as with a pulse rates topic. This type of information is best displayed in a spreadsheet, because several types of similar information with a quantifiable output can be displayed and graphed or analysed immediately. Like any other computer program, a spreadsheet can be designed for the age and ability of the user, just as much as what it is required to do. Hence, at its most simple level, a spreadsheet can just list a table of results or observations. These could be a list of day-by-day measurements of a growing plant, or series of measurements of the various members of a class of children. However, the spreadsheet has many added advantages. It can model a particular outcome or activity, where children can enter data and find out what happens when some of it is changed (Feasey and Gallear, 2001). Spreadsheets can utilise the basic data to produce further information. For example, they can calculate averages, or in the plant example give actual growth rates. Open-ended questions of the ‘what if?’ type can be posed to extend children’s thinking and consequently their learning, and from this ‘imaginary’ data, graphs can be produced and comparisons made with either other modelled data, or perhaps even real data. This would be difficult to do with a database, and as a result of this children need to be taught which type of data handling package is the most appropriate for any given task, as the outcome of an entire investigation can be affected by the selection of an inappropriate program. Although the children will need some previous experience of using both types of software before they are able to make a judgement as to which one is the most appropriate, the teacher plays an important part in helping the children to decide which is the most suitable for a given task.