Ducketts Lane media specialist expands upon students' digital knowledge

It's getting a bit crowded in the Ducketts Lane Elementary School media center.

In addition to about two dozen fifth-graders from the school assembled before a projection screen, media specialist Matthew Winner has invited about two dozen cyberspace invaders — a class from Rossville, Ind. — who show up courtesy of Skype.

Students in both classrooms can see one another and take turns waving. Ducketts Lane students are accustomed to the interaction — Winner has allowed them to Skype with similar classes from as far away as China. Howard County school officials say he epitomizes today's media center specialist, using digital technology to stoke students' passion and interest in a part of the school previous generations knew only as a place to check out books.

A 2012 Maryland Outstanding User of Technology Educator and 2013 Library Journal Movers & Shakers award recipient, Winner is pushing educators to teach children via the devices they're familiar with. Winner is co-author of "Teach Math With the Wii: Engage Your K-7 Students through Gaming Technology," along with Meghan Hearn, a math support teacher at Hollifield Station Elementary School.

Due out next month, the book uses the Nintendo Wii to support math concepts students learn in classrooms. During the Skype visit, he engaged both classrooms using the ColAR digital application, which takes coloring book drawings and transforms them into animated 3-D images that appear to jump off the screen and stay suspended in midair.

Winner also authors "The Busy Librarian," a blog that features author profiles and book reviews, highlights education technology, and offers commentary about library and current events. He also runs a podcast, "Let's Get Busy," which features author and illustrator interviews.

"Matthew even goes so far as to find experts to connect to his students through videoconferencing technology when they are not available in the flesh. His students are the heart of his media center," says children's author Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, who has written books including "Chicks Run Wild," "Hampire!" and "Pirate Princess."

He is popular with students at Ducketts Lane — Howard County's newest school, which opened in Elkridge this year and drew students from four existing schools as part of efforts to alleviate overcrowding.

"I like him because he thinks math should be taught through video games, which I think is kind of cool," says Nathan Roy, 10, a fifth-grader from Elkridge.

"He has a lot of talent in him," says Asha Redmond, 10, also a fifth-grader from Elkridge. "He takes something that's really boring and makes it fun for us to do."

Winner Skyped students as part of International Dot Day, a worldwide celebration of creativity based on Peter H. Reynolds' book, "The Dot," about a teacher who sparks creativity in a reluctant student by getting her to place a dot on a piece of paper.

"I got involved really last year in a big way when we just started pushing to Skype with other people around the world," says Winner, who spread the word about the school's efforts via Twitter. "Our kids need to know that there's more to the world than what's in our school, or in our library and our classrooms.

"We're all in a new school, and they don't really know each other. I feel like they've all been testing the waters," says Winner of his students at Ducketts Lane. "For the first month that we've been here, you can see them testing me and one another to see where they stand in the group. So it's neat to know that we're all learning how to be a group together.

"Doing things like Dot Day has given us reason us to pull together," he says. "We're all looking at how we are the same and how we can all make our mark on the world."

Sherry Gick, teacher-librarian in the Rossville Consolidated Schools District in Indiana, assembled her sixth-grade students to Skype with Ducketts Elementary students because, like Winner, she recognizes that media specialists in schools must be "a far cry from your grandmother's librarian."

"Gone are the days of quiet libraries and shushing. We utilize websites and many digital tools to connect our students to information and to the world around them," Gick says.

She and Winner have used presentation software, blogs, Twitter and Google Docs to share information with teachers and classrooms.

"Matthew is a new breed of teacher-librarian: embracing technology hand and hand with books and sharing both with students daily," Gick says.

But Winner says his methods aren't completely divorced from traditional library staples. Like yesterday's librarians, media specialists teach students how to be effective users of information that will benefit them in later life, he said.

"I'm always looking for something new to give to my students, a new experience, a new thing for them to connect with," Winner says. "And it doesn't have to involve technology. It can just be a really great book that I want them to connect with. It can be a trip somewhere or a new understanding of something.

"It is often through technology, though," he says, "because that's how we interact with out world now."

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