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Boeckman Middle School will hold Nook Night to purchase e-readers for students

In an increasingly digital world, it should come as no surprise that e-readers like Nooks and Kindles are gaining popularity among students. And that's what staff at Boeckman Middle School is counting on.

On Jan. 24, BMS will host its first Nook Night, an opportunity for parents to come to the school, learn about Nooks and the options digital readers offer. If they choose, they can buy any of the three types of Nooks available.

Nooks are products of Barnes and Noble. Prices range from $99 for the basic Nook Simple Touch to $249 for the Nook Tablet. Barnes and Noble community relations manager Lin Salisbury will be on hand to demonstrate all three devices, talk about what each one does and help families who purchase one that night get their new devices set up and registered.

Though there will not be any special pricing for purchasing the e-readers, Barnes and Noble will donate a portion of the purchase price for every Nook sold that evening back to the school so media center specialist Barbara Theirl can purchase e-books for students to read.

Reaching at-risk readers

This isn't a new concept for Theirl. She used a similar pilot program while at the Anoka-Hennipin school district. It worked well there, so she thought she'd try it again in Farmington.

The idea, Theirl said, is to get students who may not be interested in reading to become interested because they're using a digital device to receive the text, rather than a printed book.

"We know students are very, very interested in using technology," Theirl said. "All you have to do is look at kids to see that the direction kids are going is to the digital readers."

More and more, students are trending toward using all types of digital devices - Nooks, Kindles, iPads and iPhones seem to show up in schools more at the beginning of every school year, and again after the holidays. Using the popularity of those devices is a key to getting students to read more.

"Once they get engaged with the device, we find they actually get engaged with the material on the device," Salisbury said.

And that's what Theirl hopes to do. She's working with Boeckman Middle School language arts teacher Kerry Beton to see if they can increase student reading skills - particularly with those who are "reluctant readers" - by using the Nooks and other e-readers.

With the Nooks, students can tweak things like size and font of the text. In some of the Nook versions, they can even hear an audio version of the book and follow along in reading the text.

Another bonus to using e-readers, Salisbury said, is that the e-readers offer a certain amount of anonymity for students who struggle with reading.

"If a kid is reading below grade level, no one has to know," Salisbury said. "It's not like other kids can look at the cover of a book and say, 'Oh, I read that in third grade.'"

Giving kids options

Theirl knows not every family will be able to buy a new digital reading device for their child, and that it could just be a matter of a few years before a new device comes out that offers more or better options. Those are both obstacles that can be dealt with, she said.

The BMS Parent Teacher Partnership has already set aside $1,200 for the purchase of a handful of new Nooks for the media center. Those will be registered to the building and students who do not own their own will be able to check the devices out if they need or want to use one for school work.

The amount raised through the purchase of Nooks next week will also dictate how many new e-books Theirl is able to purchase this year. She'll look at accessories for the devices, as well.

And the argument that one day, something better might come along? Well, that's okay, she said. As long as students have options - including real, paper-filled book or audio books or e-readers - there will always be a way for students to get the reading content they need.

"I like to use the example that when they invented ballpoint pens, they didn't get rid of the pencil," she said.

In her presentation Tuesday, Theirl plans to share research that shows how digital devices are being utilized by students at different levels in their education. For instance, she has data showing that, in 2011, 52 percent of all college kids indicated they used e-readers on a regular basis.

"It's that engagement piece that helps us create better readers and better writers," she said. "We're excited about getting lots of lifelong readers here in the district."

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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