Database Gives School Much More Than Expected

How d'es creating a journal of class activities using a computer sound? Nothing special? Now put in graphics, sounds and even students' recorded voices. Needs a multimedia authoring package, with a high-end computer, right? How about creating an online catalog of all inventory, including everything imaginable. Don't forget to put in pictures of all items and throw in audio descriptions of each item and how it is used. Sound complicated? Not really, as long as one has the correct software. And that software is a database package called FileMaker Pro 3.0 from Claris Corp. (Santa Clara, Calif.). Familiar Package, New Features Although FileMaker Pro has been around for quite some time, the latest release gives it powerful relational capabilities while retaining its legendary simplicity. To find out how simple it really is, ask Dr. Merle Marsh, of Worchester County Day School, in Berlin, Md. The school has been using the software exactly as described above, and even more imaginatively. "It's very easy to use without even knowing what you're doing," says Marsh. "In education, we don't have time to spend hours learning a product." To back up her claim, she points to the manual on her desk and says, "I don't think I've ever even opened it -- but I've used the program quite a bit!" Worchester chose FileMaker Pro 3.0 for many reasons, one being that the listserv (a listserv compiles messages for newsgroups and then forwards them to newsgroup members) they are on always had reports of satisfaction, user-friendliness and good service. "Word of mouth is always good for Claris," says Marsh, "and we like Claris products. They're all easy to use and we knew if we ordered it, we wouldn't have any problems." Nancy Raskauskas, computer teacher at Worchester, agrees with Marsh that the software is not difficult to learn. "It's straightforward and so simple," she notes. "I've had no problem acclimating myself and other teachers and students to the program." Journals and Catalogs To understand just how easy the software is to use, Raskauskas tells of some of the projects the school has created with FileMaker Pro 3.0. "Our sixth grade class was studying Ancient Civilizations and Egypt, and we created an archeological 'journal' of sorts," she says. Students drew pictures of various artifacts in Broderbund's KidPix or Claris Draw and incorporated them into the program. Then, they included little "blurbs," or descriptions, of the artifacts. FileMaker Pro 3.0 let them arrange everything into a "journal" format, both pleasing to the eyes and easy to use; not something that looks like a traditional database. Another innovative way that Worchester is using the software is in creating an online software catalog. Raskauskas relates that teachers didn't realize the technology resources that the school possessed, or have an idea of exactly what kind of software was available for their use, much less how to use it. Raskauskas took photos of all the software products they had, including box shots, and created a catalog listing of them. She then included text descriptions of these products, how to use them and when they're appropriate. The catalog was printed and distributed to all teachers, who were now fully aware of all software at their disposal. But they didn't stop there. Raskauskas added audio descriptions as well as text to the catalog and put it on their server. Now teachers can access it directly from their classroom computers, to see any new additions, or to make changes. Every Class Gets to Use It Even first graders got involved with FileMaker Pro 3.0, using the program to create a student bird-watching guide. Students imported bird pictures and included text and audio descriptions of their research and the different birds. Also added were recordings of students' bird call interpretations. Again, this database was arranged in the format of a book or guide, and not a typical database field-entry screen. For the future, Raskauskas plans to integrate FileMaker Pro 3.0 into all classes, using the software for at least one multimedia project per class.

This article originally appeared in the 10/01/1996 issue of THE Journal.