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A new twist on story time

MCVILLE, N.D. -- Two kindergarten students flop belly down onto an alphabet rug, a picture book on the floor in front of them. Each boy pops in an earbud, and one presses "play" on a postage stamp-sized iPod shuffle.

Dakota Prairie 3rd graders Victoria Reiten and Jalen Fuller read "The Little Red Hen" on a Nook E-reader as their teacher, Kayte Avdem looks on. Herald photo by Eric Hylden.

MCVILLE, N.D. -- Two kindergarten students flop belly down onto an alphabet rug, a picture book on the floor in front of them. Each boy pops in an earbud, and one presses "play" on a postage stamp-sized iPod shuffle.

Story time begins.

The 16 students in Lisa Jorde's kindergarten class at Dakota Prairie Elementary School in McVille, N.D., use iPods to read, or at least follow, along with audio books, usually during free time.

At other times, though, when the bus delivers students to school an hour before classes -- the Dakota Prairie School District covers 900 square miles, and the same buses serve the elementary and high school -- or the temperature dips below zero and recess is indoors, all 128 elementary students can go to Mrs. Jorde's room to use the iPod-and-books bags. Each bag contains five picture books, a pair of earbuds and an iPod shuffle with audio versions of the books. The iPod serves a serious purpose as a parental proxy, "reading" to kids in the hours they are at school, parents are at work and teachers are busy with other tasks.

Also, they're fun.


"It's just kind of a fun novelty, and it just makes it so much easier to have five (audio books) there and not flipping around CDs," Jorde said, "especially at their age, where it's always 'teacher, teacher, teacher.' I was always fixing things for them."

Jorde bought 20 iPods for students in November, after the school received $10,000 to spend on classroom technology as a posthumous gift from Robert Bunde, a district school bus driver, who died in June.

Reluctant readers

Down the hall from the kindergarten, third-grade teacher Kayte Avdem has pairs of students reading aloud on Color Nooks, Barnes & Noble's e-readers. Following Avdem's instructions, students read and scroll through the fable "The Little Red Hen," then tap unfamiliar words to see definitions and highlight words with short "e" sounds.

"I've had lots of parents come up, like at ball games, 'Could I talk to you?'" Avdem said. "'OK, what did I do?'" But parents just want to know how the school was able to buy Nooks, which cost about $250 apiece, so Avdem explains Bunde's $10,000 gift. "Parents are very excited," Avdem said. "The only disadvantage is now the kids want their own."

One such student made a compelling case for using an e-reader. "She is always done with her work right away," Avdem said. "...she'll read 30 books in a weekend. She says, 'I could put 30 books on (the Nook), and it wouldn't break my back like my backpack!'"

For now, though, students use the Nooks at school only. Avdem has four Nooks in her classroom, and another three in the school's computer lab. Avdem and other teachers scour the Barnes & Noble website for children's books, many free or priced at less than $1, then read them to make sure they are age-appropriate before downloading them to the Nooks. Avdem likes to offer students read-aloud books, too, though they are more expensive, she said, at $6.99 to $20.

'Just tools'


Technology use in North Dakota's public schools is overseen primarily by EduTech, a branch of the state's Information Technology Department. EduTech training coordinator Tabitha Lang said using mobile devices such as iPods and Nooks can motivate students to learn, but teacher guidance is crucial.

"All of these devices are just tools," Lang said. "If you implement them in the right way, they're going to help increase learning, but the teacher is the most important person in the classroom."

Hard on ears?

Add fun and technology in the classroom, though, and you might inspire a flurry of head-shaking and tongue-clucking. For instance, what about damaging children's fragile hearing by stuffing their ears with earbuds?

"It's fine, as long as you're not cranking it, wearing it all day, every day," said Mackensie Brandt, an audiologist at Altru Health in Grand Forks.

"Anything that gets kids to read is good, of course," she added.

Maximum daily earbud or headphone use, Brandt said, is 90 minutes at 80 percent of full volume or 4½ hours at 70 percent volume. If kids control the volume, one option to ensure hearing safety is to buy them headphones with built-in volume limiters, Brandt said.

Children and adults alike should use earbuds in moderation, Brandt advised, and take breaks. "We're built with protectors inside already," Brandt said, "but you have to let that have a rest."


The few area children she has treated, Brandt said, suffered hearing loss from hunting, not from earbud use.

Reach Gulya at (701) 780-1118; (800) 477-6572, ext. 118; or send e-mail to lgulya@gfherald.com .

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