Trick or treat?

This week we had a lot of fun celebrating Halloween. We want to highlight the best teacher costumes, and we want to share the celebration we had at Genius Plaza.

Look this beautiful Monarch butterfly, doesn’t she look great?  

I am a Monarch butterfly today! I’m still learning how to fly! 🤣

A post shared by Carolina: (@funforspanishteachers) on Oct 31, 2017 at 6:26am PDT

Wow, a real superhero! To be a teacher, you must have some superpowers.

When your students pick your Halloween costume. #teachers #teacherlife #superman #clarkkent #halloween #teachercostume

A post shared by Nicholas Ferroni (@nicholasferroni) on Oct 31, 2017 at 7:18am PDT

As a Mexican, I love these Catrinas, great job teachers!

101 Dalmatians!  All of them look super cute.

Adorable idea! The Three Little Pigs story in a costume.

Happy Halloween! #firstgradeteam #threelittlepigs #bigbadwolf #teachersfollowteachers #teachersofinstagram

A post shared by Veronica Sanchez (@firstgradedualadventures) on Oct 31, 2017 at 11:49am PDT

And here’s how Genius Plaza celebrated Halloween.  We really enjoyed seeing the kids’ faces!

This how we celebrated #Halloween

A post shared by Genius Plaza (@geniusplaza) on Nov 3, 2017 at 10:28am PDT


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Quivers and Quills: Using Halloween to Launch Creative Writing Exercises

A dim spectre in the distance. A ghostly woman in white waiting forlornly on a bridge. A mysterious voice in the dark of the night. A statue that watches…and waits.

Scary stories are powerful. Every community, rural or urban, has its share of tales that have the power to chill you to the bone. Both original stories and those rooted in folk legends invoke strong reactions from their audience. Some people avoid scary tales. Others cannot get enough of them. These are the people for which Halloween was made.


The book that hooked me up

While I don’t enjoy all aspects of Halloween, (I’m took impatient to put together an impressive costume, and I’m allergic to half the candy out there – Boo!) I am a fright fan. I have been ever since elementary school, when my second-grade teacher gave me a booked titled The Doll in the Garden. It was a ghost story about a girl who found an antique doll buried in her neighbor’s garden. Throughout the story she learns about the doll’s history by traveling back in time to speak with the doll’s former owner – a ghost girl named Louisa.

I enjoyed the book enough to mention it to my aunt, who was a fourth grade teacher. My aunt gave me a book her students enjoyed by the same author. It was called Wait Till Helen Comes. It was about a girl whose stepsister was communicating with a ghost who wanted to lure her into a pond, to drown, so she could join her in the afterworld.  I loved it, and read it again and again. There were sentences that made my heartbeat quicken. Something about the way the words scared me pressed me to keep on reading them, and as my interest grew, I swear I could feel my imagination expanding. I liked to be scared, and I liked how my fright made me wonder about the world and my place in it.

I found myself studying the way the author used words to paint scary scenes and invoke a sense of danger. I became keenly aware that my reaction to the story was the result of artistic choices. Her characters, the plot, the setting, the tone, the pacing, the symbolism, the foreshadowing, the structure – all of these elements worked in harmony to create a story powerful enough that I remember it to this day.

Teachers, without a doubt, have kids in their class who love a good fright, and Halloween is a perfect time to reach them with an unforgettable creative writing exercise. There is plenty of opportunity to co-opt Halloween to help students stretch their creative muscles with some writing exercises.

horror book

Option One: Writing prompts. Teachers can provide students with a choice of three or four “story starters” from which they can build their own scary story. Students who chose the same prompt can compare their stories after they are written and discuss how the stories differ. Students can explain the choices they made and discuss their favorite parts of each other’s stories.

scary prompt

Option Two: Word webs. Teachers can ask students for “scary” nouns. Then, scary adjectives, verbs, and so on. Using the collected words, students can compose a series of frightening sentences – or a full-fledged scary story.


Option Three: Take a break from scary. Not all students enjoy being scared. That’s perfectly fine! Instead, perhaps they would benefit from a writing exercise that focuses on costumes. What was their favorite Halloween costume, ever? What do the costumes in the costume store do at night, when all of the customers and employees are gone? What if the costumes came to life?

I have found that giving children the chance to perform their written pieces for an audience is very beneficial for driving home the idea that writing is meant to be experienced. It is easy for young writers to forget about the reader as they get excited – or intimidated – by the act of putting words on a page. It is harder to forget about the audience when the writer realizes that their piece will be performed rather than read.

Not all students will be comfortable with performing a monologue or acting in a play, and that’s okay. Children in the audience can sit back and enjoy the show, and perhaps even give feedback on what works and what doesn’t in a performed narrative. They might even like to see their own piece performed by others!

Children working together to create a story will not only hone their writing and language skills – they will also exercise teamwork and have an opportunity to form lasting memories in the classroom. Halloween comes once a year. If you have only one chance to fully indulge your students’ creativity this year, this is the time to take it. This is the holiday that lets imaginations soar.


Happy World Teachers’ Day – Teaching in Freedom, Empowering Teacher

World Teachers’ Day


At Genius Plaza, we celebrate teachers every day, but today is even more special because we are celebrating World Teachers’ Day.

The History of World Teachers’ Day

According to UNESCO, World Teachers’ Day has been held annually on October 5th since 1994 to commemorate the anniversary of the signing of the 1966 UNESCO/ILO Recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers.

This year, the theme followed the “adoption of the new Sustainable Development Goals in September 2015, when teacher empowerment was reaffirmed as a top priority in all education and development strategies.”


Celebrating Teachers

For us, it is another opportunity for us to say thank you to teachers – and this year we are doing it with eBooks.

This eBook by a future scientist includes quotes about education from “very famous people.”  This eBook by a future doctor speaks about the importance of teachers.  This one is in Spanish and is titled “The Teacher and his/her students.”  This one is one of my favorites, and is titled “The Teacher Who Taught Me To Read Books.”

Join us in thanking teachers by sharing memories or creating your own eBook at Genius Plaza, or by downloading our app on iOS, Google Play or Amazon. #WorldTeachersDay


Teachers coming together in a time of need – guest post by Brianne Walterhouse

We have been following and sharing updates about the great effort by Hurricane Harvey Teachers in Need (who have now also created Hurricane Irma Teachers in Need) and the leadership of these inspiring teachers wanting to help others impacted by the recent storms. We decided to reach out to Brianne Walterhouse, who has been at the forefront of this effort with other teachers to share how this came about. We are grateful that in the middle of organizing this initiative, she took the time to write this piece.

Teachers for Teachers

by Brianne Walterhouse

Instagram: @hooorayforteaching  and Twitter: @HoooRayforTeach

I have had many people over the past couple of weeks ask me why I would take on the task of helping get teachers adopted in Texas when I have so much going on at home.  It’s the beginning of a new school year and there has been a TON going on in my personal life.  So they always say, “Why would you add this to your plate?”  The answer is simple.  It’s who I am.  It’s second nature.  It’s how I was raised.  In 1991, I lost my home in the Oakland Hills Firestorm.  I remember the days after the fire even now.  Going down to our church hall to pick out a new backpack, supplies, and clothing that had been donated.  I saw for the first time what it meant to really come together in a time of need. Every year since then, our family has adopted a family for Christmas.

Teaching Kindness and Service

As an adult, and a teacher, I teach my students what kindness and service is about.  Whether it’s collecting toys for our local fire department, or doing drives for local fire victims, I want my students to see that they are making a difference.  

Teachers Coming Together

When I heard about the devastation that Hurricane Harvey caused to the Houston area, I knew immediately that I needed to do something.  I reached out on Instagram and with three other AMAZING teachers, got an adoption list going.  Kristi Stanfa from Hooray for Third Grade and Allie McMillen from Third Grade Parade and I worked through Instagram Messenger to come up with a plan.  With the help of Kori Markussen from True Tales of a Teacher , we were able to create a Facebook Group that gave both people in need of support and those wanting to support a central place to gather.  Even now, we have new members joining and we are still getting classrooms adopted.  We have had 289 teachers in need and I know there will be more!

Much Work to Be Done

We aren’t done, either.  Hurricane Irma has taken a beating on Florida and the Caribbean.  I know we will continue to come together and support classrooms, teachers, and their students through this difficult time!  It has been amazing to see what our teacher community has done, and my heart is so full to see us come together to help those in need!




Earlier this week, we read this important piece by Anya Kamenetz titled “Resources For Educators To Use In The Wake Of Charlottesville.” As she points out, many teachers began sharing resources online hours after the attack. She asks the question, “How should educators confront bigotry, racism, and white supremacy?” She also shares great resources and advice, we recommend reading her piece and following the hashtag #CharlottesvilleCurriculum. Greg Toppo from USA Today also wrote about the challenges educators will face as students return to school.  


As both articles point out, there are great resources available to help educators, including:

We are committed to continue celebrating diversity and tolerance and invite you to use our resources at Genius Plaza.

I have a dream

We invite others to share resources in the comments section and continue to follow  #CharlottesvilleCurriculum.


Learning in Nature


As we near summer, kids are spending less time in the classroom and more time outside, but that doesn’t mean the learning takes a break! There are many educational benefits to spending more time in nature; in fact, it’s not a bad idea to start planning outdoor lessons for the fall.

The English Outdoor Council cites the following five “background benefits” of outdoor learning:

Enhanced personal and social communication skills; increased physical health; enhanced mental and spiritual health; enhanced spiritual, sensory, and aesthetic awareness; and the ability to assert personal control and increased sensitivity to one’s own well-being.

These are described as background benefits because they occur implicitly through spending time outdoors, but there are also “planned benefits” that educators can focus on cultivating, such as cooperating, respect, problem solving and teamwork skills.


Incorporating outdoor learning activities can assist with traditional benchmarking goals as well. Research has shown that student performance, including standardized test scores, tend to improve when students spend more time learning outside. In addition, outdoor learning has been linked to a reduction in ADHD symptoms and stress levels in both students and teachers. Planned outdoor activities can also be a great opportunity to involve parents and the expanded school community in a less structured, informal way.



Encourage your kids and students to get outside this summer, and consider creating more lesson plans for the fall that involve the outdoors. Have them create art projects out of found objects or pressed flowers; start a school or community garden; consider building projects to teach math and science; utilize your local landscape to teach about ecology and biology.





The Impact of Curiosity on Learning

In his article The 5th C? Curiosity, Questions, and the 4 Cs, Andrew Minigan seeks to add a fifth “C” to Framework for 21st Century Learning’s four existing Cs: creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration.  That fifth C is curiosity.


As he mentions,

Asking questions is not simply a means to gather information. Rather, by asking questions, students can identify their own knowledge gaps and think critically about what they are learning, assess information from individuals and other sources of information, think creatively and divergently, and work constructively with others.”

Though the modern school spends a great deal of time on results-based lessons, learning the value of asking questions and maintaining curiosity is invaluable far beyond the classroom.  Teachers – with a bit of creativity – can work to implement asking questions in their classrooms, thus encouraging students to challenge themselves to learn more.

At Genius Plaza, our didactic method of “Learn – Reflect – Re-teach – Peer Review” perpetuates the importance of curiosity in learning.  How do we do this?

Genius Plaza eBooks

Learn: students learn a concept using various Learning Objects, including eBooks, vocabulary sets, videos, comprehension exercises, and worksheets.

Reflect: students think back on what they’ve learned, and ask questions about things they don’t understand.  They can also comment and ask questions on one another’s work.

Re-teach: once a student has mastered a concept, they reteach it to other students using authoring tools, using their own creativity to create eBooks, games, and more.

Peer review: students comment on each other’s co-creations, and have yet another opportunity not only to repeat the concept, but ask more questions.

Didactic Method

Genius Plaza’s didactic method allows for creativity and critical thinking, with curiosity remaining at the forefront.  Consistent questioning and the possibility of learning more keeps students engaged throughout the lesson, no matter the concept, and continuously engaged in their own learning journeys.

It is the hope of Genius Plaza and educators everywhere that by remaining curious, students determine what they still have to learn, what they can do to strengthen their abilities, and, most importantly, how they can develop into lifelong learners.

Education Week in Review

Education Week in Review

Each Friday, we will share education and EdTech chats, stories, and blogs we found that are of interest. We invite you to add others in the comments section.

Math and science program at UC Davis recruits underrepresented students 

These 10 States Have Most Education Equality by Race

What Are The Benefits of Using Virtual Reality in K-12 Schools?

@GreatCitySchls Live from #BIRE2017 - table discussions on key ELL-related ESSA requirements

@emilyfranESL We meet outstanding teachers every day who bring this tweet to life!

Upcoming conferences we are attending -

please join @geniusplaza at:

May 31 to June 2 - @BookExpoAmerica booth 1844

June 11-14 - National Charter School Conference booth 133

June 25-28 - #ISTE17  booth 2152