Kindling a spark

  • Article by: Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 11, 2011 - 4:45 PM

Thanks to nonprofit education foundations, more west-metro schools are trading textbooks for high-tech e-readers.

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Minnetonka Middle School East students Brin Feltl, 11, Mercedes Mathis, 12, and Emily Trewatha, 11, used an e-book in a demonstration for members of the education foundation that funded the books.

Photo: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

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When it comes to reading or researching, most kids today turn to a Google search box, not an encyclopedia.

Schools like Hopkins North Junior High have taken note.

Teachers there are trading paperback books for 30 Nook e-readers this month with hopes that they will kindle kids' excitement about reading.

"I think kids are going to glom onto them," Principal Pat Schmidt said. "In a junior high mind ... this will sustain [their attention] or give it a boost."

In all, 120 Nook and Kindle e-readers will go out to three schools this month, thanks to the Hopkins Education Foundation, a nonprofit that raises money to fund school projects or programs.

Other school districts' education foundations also are funding e-readers as a way to better engage students.

"For some students, it's just a fun way to trigger their enthusiasm for reading," Minnetonka teacher Bart Meath said. "Whether it's a book or an e-reader, we just want them to be reading."

Lottery drawings for e-readers

In Meath's Minnetonka Middle School East class, seven Kindles are so popular that students enter a lottery to check one out.

"It makes reading more fun," said sixth-grader Eleanor Mancheski, who got a Kindle for Christmas that she said she uses every day.

Classmate Cyrus Tehranchi said he used to read "every once in a while." But with the Kindle, "I read every night now," he said. "It seems cool because it's electronic and it's a book on a screen."

Not only can students interact with an e-book -- by enlarging text or clicking on words to look up definitions, for instance -- but teachers also say it allows them to save money longterm, downloading many books -- especially the latest ones -- more cheaply or for free.

In Erin Plasch's gifted class at Edina's Concord Elementary School, an informal test of Nooks last year proved their popularity. Half of her students read a paperback book while the other half read the book digitally.

Their verdict: "They liked the digital text better," Plasch said. "They liked the portability of it ... and they liked the novelty of it."

DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis will provide Apple iPads for the entire student body, about 600 students, next fall. Leasing the devices with an option to buy, along with plans to upgrade the school's firewall and wireless network, will cost about $200,000 per year, Principal Barry Lieske said.

The cost of the iPads is built into the private school's tuition charge.

Digital books also are helping struggling students, acting as an equalizer of sorts for those who read at lower grade levels.

At Meadowbrook Elementary School in Hopkins, 30 iPads have been especially effective with special education and younger students who thrive on tactile learning, said media specialist Lesley Hendrickson.

But that doesn't mean printed books will go extinct anytime soon. Instead, Hendrickson predicts that reference books that are easily made obsolete by ever-changing information will go electronic while books such as novels will stay in print.

"We're never going to go back to a printed encyclopedia," she said. "But I don't think it's going to replace a kid holding a big fat Harry Potter book."

Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141

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