As library media specialist at Longfellow Elementary School in Columbia, it's Matthew Winner's job to figure out how best to use technology in the classroom. It has become a place where students have a chance to do something they already may be doing at home: play on a Nintendo Wii.
But it's not gaming for the sake of gaming, Winner said. His students are actually learning math skills.
It's work that recently earned him an honor as a "Mover and Shaker" in the industry from Library Journal, the profession's leading trade magazine.
"It's huge," said Winner, 32, of Ellicott City. "It feels very affirming."
Winner's "classroom" is the school's library, where he teaches regular lessons like rhyming words and facilitates the coming and going of books into the hands of the school's more than 400 students. It's also where his students are enjoying learning math.
"This is a language they already know," he said. "They're familiar with gaming in a different context, of course, but we're using the sports game where there's so much math inherently in there already, like score-keeping."
Take prime and composite numbers, Winner said. When a student gets a score on a game they have to determine whether it's a prime or composite. Once the students have an understanding of that concept they can start affecting the data by changing their scores, like playing the game with the hope of achieving a score that's a prime number.
"It becomes this really powerful tool," he said.
Winner has co-authored a book, "Teach Math with the Wii" with Veteran Elementary School math support teacher Meghan Hearn, which will be released in October. Since technology is becoming such a huge part of teaching, Winner said, it just made sense to put everything together as a resource for teachers.
"We ended up writing the resources we wish we already had," Winner said. "There's a lot written already about how to use the Wii in physical education, but we can use these games to support all these different standards we have."
In continuing his work with "gamification" — or the idea of applying games to every day learning opportunities — Winner is also the co-founder of the Level Up Book Club, an online book club for teachers and librarians exploring the concepts of game-based learning.
The students love those lessons, Winner said. For first-grader David Onanuga, 6, playing the Wii in Winner's class was the first time he had ever played with the gaming console. But he likes Winner's class for another reason.
"He's a nice teacher," David said. "He's really kind and funny. I like it when he has us pick out books to read."
Winner has been teaching in Howard County for eight years, first at Waverly Elementary School in Ellicott City and then Longfellow for the past six years. As a fourth-grade teacher at Waverly, Winner said he was inspired by that school's media specialist, Louise Wall, who encouraged him to go into library media.
"She told me I should go into this," Winner said. "I had always had this image, this ideal, of what a library media specialist does and there was a lot of comforting, good feelings associated with it. The library now is so much more than it used to be. It's about technology integration and information literacy. Our kids are in an information-rich world and we have constant access and explore to information. My job is to teach them how to use that information, to decipher and decode the relevant stuff to their needs."
On Monday, May 6, one of those lessons was actually how to collect information — or rather, photographs — as kindergartners had their first lessons with digital cameras.
"They freak out when they see the photos they've taken on the projector," Winner said. "They have an immediate sense of ownership and they're so proud to be doing this. This is their world and they need to know how to use the tools of their world."