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The Educators’ Playground: Where teachers and tech come together

For the past four years, Rowan-Salisbury Schools has undergone a digital conversion with a focus on bridging learning and technology. As a 1:1 district, all students have laptops or iPads, and with teacher-centered partnerships like the Digital Scholars Initiative, educators are very much part of the digital conversion process, too.

Cue the Educators’ Playground. 

3D Pens
Educators can test these 3D pens in the Playground to see if they’re a fit for their classroom. Yasmin Bendaas/Education NC

“We allow companies to place their products in this playground, and our teachers go in and essentially play and learn about these new technologies,” said Andrew Smith, Chief Strategy Officer of Rowan-Salisbury Schools. “You can imagine a space where we ask adults to act kind of like kids, and we ask them to vet potential products.”

Considered part technology procurement and part professional development, the Educators’ Playground is in its first year. The purpose of the playground is to allow ed-tech companies to partner with those closest to students — teachers — in the design of their products, while at the same time letting teachers test new technology before buying it. 

“Teachers, when they have input on product design, there’s an amazing power to that,” said Smith.

Tiggly, a toy company, has also moved into the ed-tech space. Yasmin Bendaas/EducationNC

In turn, teachers also learn about new and upcoming technologies available for use in their classrooms and have a space for hands-on tech testing.

“You will not change learning for a child if you don’t change the learning for a teacher” said Myra Best, Executive Director of DigiLearn, which partners with the Educators’ Playground in Rowan County.

In 2016, DigiLearn launched the Digital Scholars Initiative to cultivate teachers as leaders and models for technology use in classrooms. Digital Scholars teachers receive professional development, extended employment, and time outside the classroom, including at the Educators’ Playground, to develop leadership and entrepreneurial skills necessary to turn their classrooms into digital learning labs. 

These drones allow students with an interest in the military, geography, or real estate to take on advanced coding with drones. Yasmin Bendaas/EducationNC

“The technology gives them that set of tools that they need [to] really help students take ownership of their own learning,” said Best.

In the Playground, teachers have access to featured tech like 3D pens, Sphero robots, drones, games for iPads, and virtual reality goggles. 

“This is the real deal,” said Smith of the HTC Vive virtual reality headset. “It’s better really if you jump in. I promise.”

Yasmin Bendaas

Yasmin Bendaas is a Science writer.  A North Carolina native, she received her master’s degree in Science & Medical Journalism at UNC Chapel Hill, where she was a Park Fellow. She received her Bachelor of Arts in anthropology in 2013 from Wake Forest University, where she double-minored in journalism and Middle East and South Asia studies. As an undergraduate student, Bendaas gained insight into public health when she interned at the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, a statewide grantmaker focused on rural health, including access to primary care, diabetes, community-centered prevention, and mental health and substance abuse. 

As a journalist, Bendaas has been funded twice by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting for fieldwork in Algeria — first to cover a disappearing indigenous tattoo tradition, and again to look at how climate change affects rural sheepherding practices.