Howard County Librarian Using Video Games to Teach Math

Matthew Winner is applying his interest in video games to pioneer new ways to teach students math.

In the middle of the library at Longfellow Elementary, a second grade student held a black Nintendo Wii controller and was swinging it methodically at a virtual ping-pong ball as it bounced back and forth on a projector screen.

"Now that you've reached 20 points, you only have 30 more seconds to get as high of a score as possible," said Matthew Winner, the librarian, to the student.

There were about 15 other students in the room, cheering on the young boy as the volley continued.

"That's it! You're done!" said Winner, "Now note the score yellow team, 57."

Nearby, the two other second graders that made up the yellow team wrote the 57 along with their other scores of 12 and 6 on pieces of paper. Then they added the scores together, for a total of 75.

Wii table tennis is one of the video games Matthew Winner uses to teach his library students math at Longfellow Elementary School in Columbia. 

In fact, Winner, along with a colleague, has developed a series of lessons using video games to teach students math and English skills. The lessons are published in an online wiki to share with other teachers interested in "gamifying education."

"I saw the opportunity to use technology in a unique way," said Winner. "These are video games our kids play all the time. I want to teach them to see the math that's inherent in it, then they think about the math when they're playing it at home."

Winner, 32, is an energetic educator developing new ways of using technology in the library, with a focus on video games. He shares his discoveries on Twitter (@MatthewWinner) and on his Busy Librarian Blog.

His achievements have been winning awards and nominations. This year he was named a 2013 mover and shaker by Library Journal. In 2012, he was named Maryland’s Outstanding User of Technology Educator.

When Patch asked Rebecca Amani-Dove, Howard County Public School's spokesperson for an interview with Winner, she said, "He's a rock star!"

Winner, who is in his eigth year of teaching, got his start at Waverly Woods under media specialist Louise Wall, who he called his mentor.

He has now spent six years as a librarian at Longfellow, but soon he'll be leaving. He recently accepted a new position to be the media specialist at the new elementary school on Ducketts Lane in Elkridge.

Using Video Games to Teach

It was easy to see how video games were motivating to students in Winner's class.

Last week, as they batted around the ping-pong ball, every student in the class was engaged and excited.

"Gamification is applying gaming elements to everything we do to make it more motivating," said Winner.

He used the example of the Foursquare app, which uses GPS coordinates, to give users points everytime they check-in at a business or location. If you check-in at a certain location a number of times you get badges or titles. Over time, these small rewards provide incentives for people to return to businesses.

In Winner's class, students play sport games such as Wii baseball to create unique sets of data.

For example, Wii baseball has a home run derby game, in which players swing away at virtual baseballs. If done well, the ball gets hit out of the park a certain distance, which is recorded on a scoreboard. Winner then takes these distance figures and asks second graders to compare them using >, =, or < symbols to order them from least to greatest.

Each lesson is based on common core standards that students must learn before going onto the next grade, said Winner.

"The very best games I work with are Wii Sports, Wii Sports Resort and Wii Fit," said Winner. "They are sports games, they are short and lots of people can have turns."

During a recent class, every student had a chance to play, then the teams added up their scores at the end. In all, it took about 30 minutes.

Afterwards, the students still had 15 minutes left in the period to select books from the library they wanted to take out that week.

Libraries and the Internet

Winner is just one example of a national shift in how librarians are doing their jobs in an increasingly interconnected, digital world.

In an article titled "Library Roles in a Digital Age", the Council on Library and Information Resources said modern libraries need to, "move the Web from an unstructured and undifferentiated mass of information to a more useful and scaleable information environment, systems of trust and provenance will be essential."

Winner put it more succintly, saying, "Our world is inundated with information. My job is to teach [students] how to access it and how to evaluate it."

One of his focuses with his young elementary students is to show them the power of the internet, both good and bad.

He uses Google Docs to teach children how anything done online is saved and can be seen by others. And with a secure social media program called edmodo, which looks like Facebook, Winner teaches students how to responsibly share content and comments.

He's also well-connected on the web. He shares ideas with other educators on Twitter, blogs twice weekly, and over the summer operates a gaming education book club with Jennifer LaGarde, a North Carolina middle school teacher who he connected with on Twitter.

This October, Winner and colleague Meghan Hearn, a math support teacher at Veterans Elementary School in Ellicott City, will publish a book for educators on how to use the Wii to teach math.

"It's a hard fight to show the library is the center of new learning, of embracing technology, of doing innovative things," said Winner. "The old, old stereotype is of the librarian who guarded books and wanted it to be quiet. We're so far from that."

In fact, it was Winner who removed the Dewey Decimal card catalogue from the Longfellow Library. He said he wanted to keep it, but admitted it was just taking up space.

"I want to work smarter," said Winner, "Not harder."

Related Articles

  • Howard County Teacher Nationally Recognized for Using Technology in Music Education
  • Longfellow Librarian Recognized for Being Tech Leader

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