Year 2 are currently studying arctic wildlife so this provided a meaningful reason to explore how a branching database works. I’ve used a few branching databases over the years, notably ‘ReTreeval’ and ‘Textease Branch’ – part of the Textease suite. Both programs are a little dated but still functional and I still like the way ‘drag and drop’ way Textease handles the task of creating the database and allows children to ‘play’ with their tree diagram after it’s creation.
If you’re not familiar with the program, it’s fairly simple. Children create a new database and are then asked to select some objects to sort. These can be pictures or text. In this case, I had saved some pictures of arctic animals from the Internet and made sure that the files were appropriately named. This is important because the file name also creates the label for the picture in the final tree diagram. Children simply drag the images that they wish to sort into a box and click ‘ok’ to move to the next stage.
At this point, Textease asks the user to write a question that can be used to divide the objects into to groups so that the answer to the question is ‘yes’ or ‘no’. I usually encourage children to begin their questions with ‘Can it…?’, ‘Will it…’ or ‘Does it have…?’. This can often lead to the need for a bit of research. For instance, what is the difference between an arctic wolf and an arctic fox? They look very similar until you realise that one is much bigger. Does the polar bear have a tail? What’s the difference between a beluga whale and an orca? All of these bits of research led to more precise questions.
Once one group of objects has been sorted, Textease promps the user to continue the process with each sub-group until all objects have been sorted. Then it creates a tree disgram that looks like this…
The above was a first attempt but, with experience, sorting criteria improve.
The fun part comes next when children click on the ‘play tree’ icon. They think of one of their objects then answer their own questions to see if they arrive at the correct object. Textease blanks out all of the objects and works down the tree diagram with children clicking ‘yes’ or ‘no’ until the object is revealed.
I suspect that there may be better programs available for this sort of task by now but I’ve yet to find one. Please let me know if you have a preferred one.
It is human nature is to ‘sort’ things and the basis of much scientific enquiry – as well as a useful computer science skill – and this type of activity is a useful, if not essential, part of the primary computing curriculum. We’ll be sorting materials later this term but the activity could also be used to sort numbers, types of words and all manner of other things across both primary key stages. The real skill and progression is in developing an understanding of the things being sorted so that criteria can be more precisely crafted.