The Weekly Education News Update!

This past Monday at the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference, Google launched Google Voyager, a new Google Earth feature designed for educational purposes. TechCrunch examined how this new component will allow users to explore the world through guided tours in order to discover the many wonders in this world.

These tours will be guided by scientists, nonprofits, and other storytellers through 360-degree videos, photos, and Google Maps. Specifically BBC Earth, Jane Goodall, Sesame Street, and NASA will be available to users for a guided tour. This new aspect of Google Earth will allow students to see more of the world while sitting in their classroom. Google is also introducing lesson plans and other engaging activities for educators to help guide their classroom use.

Wisconsin Public Radio stated that Wisconsin and many other states have recently implemented the Seal of Biliteracy. This seal is a badge given out to high school graduates, which recognizes students who have studied and attained proficiency in two or more languages. “It’s a public recognition for both the purposes of college admissions, as well as possible job opportunities, which is very, very important in today’s economy,” said Silvia Romero-Johnson, Global Education director at Madison Metropolitan School District.

This school district was the first in the city to incorporate a dual-immersion program. The goal of this program was to bring together students who spoke English at home with those who regularly spoke Spanish in their home.

 “Receiving a bilingual education really immerses you in an environment that appreciates diversity and values all kinds of walks of life,” Liliana Teniente, a recent graduate of Madison’s dual-language immersion program stated. “I’ve learned from both school and social everyday interactions that being bilingual is an extremely valuable tool that helps prepare students for participation in our modern, interconnected world.”

In New Zealand, there has been a major shift in utilizing technology in the classroom. Discussed in an article by Newshub, there is more importance now being placed on technology benefiting education, because knowing how to properly use technology is becoming vital in today’s society. “Digital fluency is now an essential life skill for our young people, so we must ensure they have the skills and knowledge they need to engage in an increasingly digital world.”

The new program will include the practice of learning through video and audio content available on mobile apps. New Zealand’s new education program will also allow 12,500 students from disadvantaged backgrounds to access digital learning opportunities.

Recently discussed in THE Journal, a survey of more than 38,000 teachers, 29,000 parents, and 4,500 administrators found that technology in the classroom is becoming more supported. For instance, 68% of teachers in blended classrooms said technology helps them to better differentiate instruction. Teachers in blended or virtual classrooms were more likely to rate technology as important in numerous ways, including the improvement of differentiation in the lessons, and being able to more easily incorporate student creativity.

One of the biggest challenges this study discovered was: how do we motivate teachers to change their instructional practices and start to implement digital learning in the classroom?  Online education programs need to be engaging for the children, while also being able to properly educate the students.  

Genius Plaza Innovates Educational Content through Virtual Reality

360° video is an impactful tool for storytelling, learning, and making connections. When wearing a virtual reality headset, the viewer becomes fully immersed within a real-time environment, gaining the ability to view their surroundings in their entirety. Currently, this technology is most prominently used in journalism and filmmaking, to show a fuller scope of experiences.

Virtual reality’s power rests in its inherently organic design; the medium uses the same spatial views we are accustomed to when viewing our world. This technology elevates learning and brings content to life. 360° video and virtual reality content allow educators an illustrious new tool to give context, build understanding, and entice students to engage with curricula.

“Genius Plaza believes that technology has a pivotal role to play in democratizing education,” says Ana Roca Castro, Founder & CEO, Genius Plaza. Through this emerging medium, the company has created and curated 360° virtual reality experiences, which transport students to the work locations of inspiring Learning Champions™. These original videos are nested in the company’s award-winning teaching platform, making Career Day any day on Genius Plaza. Educators and students can select from an array of STEAM professions to read eBooks, learn associated vocabulary, and immerse within the profession of their choice in English and Spanish.

Learning Champions™ are as diverse as the students in your classrooms, and share their personal and professional journeys on the Genius Plaza platform. Students can take an entire lesson around an individual Learning Champion™.  The company offers comprehensive lessons and virtual reality teaching content in both English and Spanish. 360° video and virtual reality lessons come with an associated eBook, printable worksheet, online assessment, and sit-down interview with each professional.

When students observe, for themselves, the day-to-day work and technological processes of various STEAM careers through our 360° virtual reality experiences, they make gains in their depth of knowledge on the plethora of options for their own futures, and educators see greater engagement and participation. This unique tour teaches learners a combination of spoken and simulated information, inside virtual learning experience.

Genius Plaza is leading the way with STEAM career content, bridging the gap of access to high profile professionals and specialized careers. Students will dream as far as their imaginations will allow. With 360° video and virtual reality career content their aspirations are primed for exploration, in full view.

Full STEAM Ahead with Genius Plaza!

“Genius lives in every zip code with access the only barrier,” says Ana Roca Castro, founder & CEO of Genius Plaza. As an engineer who has combined her passion for her field with education, she knows firsthand that for students to pursue STEAM careers, they need to see what opportunities exist, and by learning from the professionals that look like them.

Genius Plaza offers access to resources for career profiles from diverse professionals, including lesson plans, animations, video interviews, leveled eBooks in English and Spanish, vocabulary sets, assessment exercises, and a 360 degree virtual reality tour of the professional’s workspace.

Currently, there is a leaky school-to-STEAM career pipeline, especially within low-income households and communities of color. Technology allows the team at Genius Plaza and the schools with whom they work to connect students to worlds of possibility for themselves and their futures. Students can learn about career paths from a group of high-profile professionals. Some of these professionals include a groundbreaking woman engineer at NASA, and a Johnson & Johnson scientist working on cancer-fighting treatments, as well as doctors, software engineers, and venture capitalists. Students who can see themselves in these careers are more likely to major in a STEAM profession, and believe in their academic success.

The Genius Plaza model of searchable, multi-leveled eBooks in math and language arts has been applied to the STEAM career digital library. The latest technological advancements are combined with educator-made teaching materials, to teach students what being a STEAM professional looks like, and to learn how these individuals carved out their career. STEAM career Learning Champions™ take the time to share their professional stories and backgrounds with students.  In turn, aspirations can turn into attainable realities, harnessing the power of technology as a bridge between classrooms and workplaces around the world.

Genius Plaza provides schools and teachers with STEAM resources that are leveled and primed for blended learning. The award-winning platform works on all internet-enabled devices. Educators can explore careers with personal insights and individual stories. These lessons include the unique experiences, professional achievements, and adversity each professional overcame while pursuing their career goals. Students will not only see the diversity in the STEAM field, but understand in learning about each professional that people of all backgrounds and experiences are thriving in in-demand career paths.

Awareness is the first step to break any barrier.  Genius Plaza career portal allows students to explore a wide range of science, technology, engineering, arts, math, and other career fields. The ultimate goal is igniting the genius in all students.

Virtual Educa

It’s a unique opportunity to be able to see a company change and evolve up close. I’ve been with Genius Plaza for over six years: since the beginning. A small room of people has quickly become a team of over sixty. The strides we have made as a company became very apparent to me at a recent conference in Bogotá, Colombia, which I was able to attend on behalf of Genius Plaza.

I’ve had the chance to represent the company at conferences before, but it was prior to some serious growth within our team. I can remember carrying two cases containing our full display for the show room. The cases bumped and clunked as I maneuvered them up stairs, between seats on the train, and into a small spot in the exposition area of a conference years ago. I, along with one other coworker, excitedly told those who passed by about our new educational platform.

Looking back, it’s hard to believe we were once just a table, a banner and two people. At Virtual Educa in Colombia, we unveiled a new display for our booth.

There were over seven people helping at our booth at any given time, and the crowds around our area are growing as well. Four of us were able to share insight about our website and other things across three panels. It was amazing to see firsthand the international impact that the company is having.

Most importantly, there’s more growing than just our presence at conferences. Originally, I created educational exercises for the platform. Now, I manage the production of music, animations, videos, and more. There are teams working on games, graphic design, web development, and a multitude of educational resources.

It now takes the touch of many, many people to make Genius Plaza what it is. I am proud to be part of a company that strives to make such a big and important impact in the lives of learners. It was great to see where we came from, but it will be even more exciting to see what lies ahead.


ISTE is Here and We Want to Thank You!

At Genius Plaza, we are excited to be participating in ISTE today through Wednesday and taking in the best in ed tech in Alamo City.  We are eager to work with many of you to ignite the genius in every child.  As a longtime supporter of the conference, we can’t wait to share what we have been up to.

We also know that conferences can be tough on anyone, so we are planning a few surprises for you all (glamour stations and massages, anyone?)  This is our way of saying thank you for all the amazing work you do all year long.  Visit us for game competitions and demos throughout the day.  You can compete and win!

Swing by Booth 2152, sign up for some of our sessions, and get some great thank you gifts for all you do for our geniuses:



Description of Session at Booth 2152

Co-creations: Collaborative Learning through Technology 6/26 Monday

11:00 AM

Technology is a powerful tool in helping students learn in a fun, engaging way. Using videos, music, blogging, and eBooks encourages students to become active learners. Join us to learn how to incorporate technology into everyday lessons!
Creative Learning Through Music and Video 6/27 Monday

3:00 PM

Music can be a powerful tool to learn and remember concepts. See how songs and educational music videos can have a big impact in the classroom. Learn the art of searching for quality online music videos or parody videos. Learn how to create your own songs and bring these methods to your own teaching!
The Use of Technology in the Classroom 6/27 Tuesday

11:00 AM

Technology is key in helping students learn. During this session, we will introduce technology resources and tips to help students improve their writing, reading, and math skills, as well as enhance their overall academic standing.
Using Technology to Ignite Bilingual Education 6/27 Tuesday

3:00 PM

Technology is everywhere in various forms, and has proven itself a valuable tool in helping students learn. During this session, see how to incorporate technology, cultural understanding, and learning into an academically enticing package. 
The Power of Technology for Culturally Relevant Storytelling 6/28 Wednesday

11:00 AM

Technology is everywhere in various forms, and has proven itself a valuable tool in helping students learn. During this session, see how to incorporate technology, cultural understanding, and learning into an academically enticing package. 



Description of Thank You Stations at Booth 2152

Makeup Thank You Stations 6/26-28 Monday – Wednesday 10:00 – 1:00 PM Swing by Monday – Wednesday from 10 – 1 PM for FREE makeup and photos. Our fantastic makeup experts will have you looking stunning in the Arizona heat. We will also have photographers on hand to snap the perfect picture! 20 mins per session.
Massage Thank You stations 6/26-27 Monday – Tuesday 2 – 5:00 PM; 6/28 Wednesday 10:00-1:00PM What’s better than a massage after a long day of moving between session booths? Come stop by booth 2152 for a FREE massage!


Education News Weekly Update!

Are you going to be at ISTE?  Don’t forget to visit us at Booth 2152!

The Sentinel & Enterprise News stated that a bill was recently passed in Massachusetts by the state’s House of Representatives, which gives school districts more flexibility when instructing students who are not proficient in English. “We need to look at our kids as though they are traveling around with luggage rather than baggage,” said Gary, Director of Language Acquisition in Leominster Public Schools. “The luggage of what kinds of skills they bring with them to school versus (the baggage of) what deficits do they have that they need to fill.” If the bill is passed by the state’s Senate, districts in Massachusetts could propose a bilingual program that would include content class offerings in a student’s native language.

EdTech discussed that in a recent survey from McGraw-Hill Education, a whopping 81% of students say digital tools have helped improve their grades, and 82% say laptops, tablets, and apps have helped them spend even more time studying. Many older students stated that laptops are the most important learning tool for them. Also in the survey, 60% of students say they are using smartphones for studying, which may be due to the number of free mobile apps available.

This past week on WABI, the recent use of virtual reality headsets in classrooms was discussed. These VR headsets are becoming more and more popular because the cost to purchase the headsets has been decreasing, making them more accessible to educators. The goal is to use these headsets for educational purposes, in an attempt to make learning more engaging and interactive. “Educators say these state-of-the-art education tools are not only providing students and teachers with challenges and experiences that were not possible before the advent of the technology, but also present endless possibilities for the future.”

The Avoyelles Journal examined how a school in Louisiana started to implement and benefit from blended learning in their classrooms. “The use of technology will allow teachers to differentiate instruction to all of his/her students,” Principal Laborde continued. “Those who are struggling will be able to catch up, and those who are above grade level will be able to move forward while remaining in their existing class.” The classrooms in this particular school will start using iPads for half the time, while the other half of the class will be participating in traditional instruction from the teacher.

Educators who use more technology in the classroom hope to show their students that learning does not always have to be in a school setting.  Also, it is stated that although technology and blended learning does help in the classroom, benefiting those who are behind or ahead, teachers are still very necessary in a child’s learning experience where teacher-student relationships are key. Teachers are encouraged to also use the technology to celebrate their students’ achievements, which is easier to follow through the use of educational technology platforms.

Thank you to everyone who attended Virtual Educa Columbia! Great job team!

Virtual Educa 2017

Desde hace 28 años me dedico a la docencia en el nivel medio superior y durante este tiempo he tenido el agrado de poder trabajar con diversas herramientas tecnológicas enfocadas a la educación. La semana pasada del 13 al 16 de Junio del 2017, tuve una de las mejores experiencias como docente, participé en el VIRTUAL EDUCA 2017 en Bogotá, Colombia.

Mi intervención en este evento fue exponiendo las experiencias vividas en mi plantel el CETis 109 de Cd. Madero, Tamaulipas con el manejo de la plataforma virtual de Genius Plaza. Esta herramienta tecnológica propició que los estudiantes de décimo grado elevaran sus notas académicas en el tema que se trató, que fue POLINOMIOS. Durante la exposición con la cual participé en Colombia , pude percibir que los educadores de Colombia que presenciaron mi plática, se vieron interesados en conocer la flexibilidad del manejo de esta plataforma.

Así mismo una de sus principales inquietudes fue saber si los contenidos temáticos de la plataforma estaban en español, a lo que se respondió que sí, ya que uno de los principales objetivos de Genius Plaza es elevar el nivel educativo de la población latinoamericana, así como propiciar un mejor aprendizaje y comprensión del idioma inglés.

Cabe destacar que entre las bondades del uso de esta plataforma se encuentra el hecho de que los estudiantes son los protagonistas de su propio aprendizaje. Considero que los educadores colombianos se encuentran por demás interesados de poder manejar estas herramientas virtuales, ya que están conscientes que en la actualidad el aprendizaje de los jóvenes debe ser de manera integral y aprovechar al máximo los diversos canales de percepción de los estudiantes que hoy en día se desarrollan de manera holística.  

Qué mejor ayuda que la plataforma virtual de Genius Plaza, que se encuentra desarrollada por personas muy interesadas en el avance de la educación en Latinoamérica. Sin lugar a dudas el manejo de las TIC en la educación es muy importante para guiar a los estudiantes en el entendido de aprender a aprender y al mismo tiempo al docente o educador lo motiva a reaprender a la par de sus estudiantes.

Este tipo de eventos como VIRTUAL EDUCA es acertadamente un evento que propicia el desarrollo humano y la innovación en la educación.



Why the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion Initiative could have a Real Impact

Earlier this month, the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion was unveiled. It is described as, “the largest CEO-driven business commitment to advance diversity and inclusion in the workplace.” When I read about this, my first reaction was “bravo!” Then I thought, “This is 2017. Why are we still having this conversation and seeing little impact?”

Workforce diversity is something I have followed since the 1990s. This is where the “bravo” comes in. If you look at how most diversity initiatives came about, you will see they were, unfortunately, a result of lawsuits and not from companies being proactive or visionary. This also may be the reason many diversity programs have not been effective. Here is a great article from Harvard Business Review on why these programs fail. That is where my second point comes in: 20 years later, we continue to see little impact. Just look at the numbers in this same article:

“Among all U.S. companies with 100 or more employees, the proportion of black men in management increased just slightly—from 3% to 3.3%—from 1985 to 2014. White women saw bigger gains from 1985 to 2000—rising from 22% to 29% of managers—but their numbers haven’t budged since then.”

I have had the privilege of working with CEOs and managers that value diversity, in companies such as Fleishman-Hillard and Univision, and on the agency side, with clients such as AT&T and P&G. Today, I work at a startup that leads with diversity. Genius Plaza is part of Project Include, and I am proud to say our numbers reflect our commitment.

Currently 42% of our full time employees are non-Hispanic white and 58% are Hispanic, African American, Asian, or two or more races. In addition, our three most senior executives are women of color, and the leadership team includes individuals with Dominican, Puerto Rican, Mexican, Cuban, Iranian, Spanish, Italian, African American, and Irish backgrounds. We are very proud of these numbers, but we know they take work.  Here is a recent interview with our founder and CEO, Ana Roca Castro, in which she speaks about these challenges. That is why Genius Plaza was an early signer to Kapor Capitol Founder’s Commitment.

As a result of my experience, I find that the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion initiative is impressive for a few reasons:

1) It is not reactive.

2) It is CEO-led.

3) As Fortune points out, it makes both the business and moral case for diversity.

4) The sharing of best and worst practices will require transparency.

5) The fact that leaders in organizations such as The Executive Leadership Council are working with this initiative.

There is a lot of work to be done by these companies and CEOs, including benchmarking, goal-setting, and ensuring accountability. Yet I am hopeful that efforts like Project Include, Kapor Capitol Founder’s Commitment, and CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion have a transformational impact, and that 20 years from now, we will be having a very different conversation on diversity and will see a significant improvement in diversity and inclusion numbers across all levels and industries.

The First Day of School!

On Thursday of our first week as Customer Happiness interns, we traveled to Gregorio Luperón High School for Math & Science in Washington Heights. Having grown up in a small town with a small school district, I was in awe of both the size and modernity of the high school.

The student and teacher populations at Gregorio Luperón are also very different than those at my school district. Growing up in a suburban, almost rural school district, meant very little diversity. The vibrant teacher and student population at Gregorio Luperón High School is just the opposite.

The diversity of Gregorio Luperón will be reflected in the content created by users. This is the case for all schools and users using Genius Plaza. Having users from not only the United States, but also from a number of different countries, including Colombia and Mexico, increases the experiences and cultures users are exposed to while using the platform. All of this makes the website more exciting to use, but it also has a much deeper value. Being exposed to cultures beyond your own has immeasurable benefits.

Although every school may not have the diversity of somewhere like Gregorio Luperón, that does not mean students cannot be connected to different cultures. A school like my high school could gain new insights from using Genius Plaza. Growing up surrounded by people and ideas different from your own undoubtedly makes someone more receptive to new experiences outside their comfort zone. Learning this way helps create a new generation of more open-minded and inclusive thinkers.

The teachers we met were receptive to the idea of new technology for the classroom and beyond. The idea that Genius Plaza’s resources are not only for the classroom, but also for at-home student usage is exciting. Another appealing aspect of the platform is the many options for co-creating. Students can choose between creating an eBook, video, printable, exercise, vocabulary set, or game.

When I was in school, teachers would have us re-teach lessons in front of our class. Genius Plaza offers a new and innovative twist to the idea of re-teaching. With Genius Plaza, students have more freedom to choose a method of re-teaching that they feel would be most beneficial to their peers and themselves. The co-creations also make re-teaching more enjoyable.

Students are able to incorporate technology, like filming a video or creating their own game. This means students are not only learning their course material, but also increasing their knowledge base of current technologies. This thereby prepares students to one day enter a competitive workforce that revolves around technological usage.

We are now in our third week of our internship, but in just the first few days of becoming a member of the Genius Plaza team, I felt at home. Not only are all the team members friendly and enthusiastic, but they are always willing to stop what they are doing and help. All of this makes me excited for the next seven weeks and thrilled to be a part of the team.

The Importance of Cultural Inclusivity in the Classroom and Beyond

Our world is an ever-evolving place, and the classroom is no exception.  With various ethnicities in any one class, language barriers come to exist, as students struggle to stay abreast of assignments and new concepts.  More than differences in language are cultural disparities.  However, diversity doesn’t have to be viewed as an obstacle; it can and should be acknowledged by teachers as they encourage students to embrace it, regardless of age bracket or location.

Studies show that students learn more effectively when they feel included.  Teachers are the foremost entity to establish this inclusivity.  It is their responsibility to familiarize themselves with the cultural differences that may exist within their class, and maintain a sensitivity to them.  As noted by Timmons-Brown and Warner in their article on culture in math pedagogy:

Culturally relevant pedagogy (CRP) has the potential to empower students’ learning and to generate high levels of success among racially and ethnically diverse student populations.

The thought process extends far beyond mathematics, as students begin to understand and value the points of view of their peers.  They are more motivated to do their best when they feel comfortable expressing their opinions, and feel they are viewed as equal amongst their classmates.  Intrinsic motivation is key to student success in any classroom.

Classrooms can be made more culturally relevant with relative ease.  Including content in lessons from multiethnic public figures, career-people, and historical figures – just to name a few – subtly diversifies the classroom, allowing students to understand and appreciate the capabilities and accomplishments of all cultures.

Subsequent open-mindedness of different cultures follows students long after school ends and into their careers, a powerful asset to possess in the modern workplace.

Genius Plaza aims to maintain cultural relevance in all our lessons, communication, and professional development sessions for teachers.  We recognize the necessity of this in all facets of education, from content creation in our diverse offices, to content presentation and use in schools everywhere.  

Cultural relevance stems from the individual, but spans further, leading to social responsibility and societal understanding.  It is a must in education, and in the world overall.