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Teaching new tricks; Tech specialists play vital role in integrating iPads into Perham High School classrooms

Connie Vandermay/FOCUS Perham High School's technology integration specialists, Jeff Morris and Sandra Wieser-Matthews, in front of a projected image of the school's new Project iEngage website.

Editor's note: This is the first story in a six-week series on the use of iPads at Perham High School.

When Perham High School began its new one-to-one iPad initiative this year, teachers and students dove into a whole new world of education.

From the very beginning, school officials knew iPads would be useless if they weren't immediately and effectively integrated into the day-to-day world of school. That's why the Perham-Dent School Board approved a plan to hire tech integration specialists - staff that stays at the school every day to help teachers and students solve issues.

Jeff Morris and Sandra Wieser-Matthews spend part of each day in their regular classrooms, teaching, and the other part of the day working throughout the school as tech integration specialists.

In an interview, Wieser-Matthews said of their tech expertise, "We are self-taught."

Using Google Educator, You Tube videos and other online research tools, the technology specialists have quickly become mini-experts on apps, iPads, websites and 549 Online.

When they wear their tech integration specialist hats, the duo zips around the school, addressing iPad issues directly in the classrooms. For example, Morris recently explained to students how to take notes on the iPad using an app called Notability.

The first months of school were a little crazy for them as they tried to answer everyone's questions, but now, 10 weeks into school, the iPads at the high school are being used daily in all subjects, as a strong educational tool.

"The teachers are starting to get the hang of it," Morris said, which leaves the duo with more time to spend on developing tools to educate the public.

Wieser-Matthews said some parents feel the iPads have become a barrier between them and their children.

"We don't want this technology to be a barrier, we want it to be as transparent as we thought it would be," she said.

While at the beginning of the year the tech integration specialists focused on teachers and students, the next couple of months they will focus on parents and the community.

To kick this off, Morris and Wieser-Matthews went live with the website,

There, parents can find tutorial videos called, "Points for Parents," which address issues parents might run across. For example, there is a video explaining how to check a child's assignments on 549 Online. Another video addresses what to do if a child spends too much time playing games on the iPad. New videos will be added on a weekly basis.

The website also has a blog, which will be updated often by Wieser-Matthews and Morris, that gives examples of actual iPad use at the school.

High School Principal Ehren Zimmerman said that within the next couple of months, some community education classes will be set up to teach iPad basics to parents and the community.

Wieser-Matthews and Morris continue to research more ways to integrate iPads into the classrooms. A lot of this research is done on their own time.

"We are constantly training ourselves," Wieser-Matthews said.

The duo will head to the TIES technology conference in Minneapolis in a couple of weeks. While there, they will not only learn as much as they can, but will also give a presentation on what Perham High School has discovered so far.

The tech integration specialists lead the way not only for Perham, but other area schools, too. Schools that requested updates on Perham's experience with the iPad initiative will have an opportunity to attend a workshop in Perham in the near future.