Teaching with Puppets

Teachers are performers who are always on stage. They educate the audience of students who show up every day. I’ve found that bringing in a level of entertainment is not only effective if done right, but easier to do than one might think.

Expanding a Lesson

A lesson can be taught in a traditional way, but expanded or reviewed in a way that is fun for the students. The entertainment can come from a well integrated song, game, video, or other tool. I have found that puppets can fascinate young students and bring life to a teaching environment.

Teaching with Puppets

teaching with puppets

Students are able to quickly “buy into” the puppets and their place in the classroom. Perhaps a puppet takes on the role of a teacher to review some material or quiz the students. Perhaps the puppet does not know about the lesson and the students need to teach or inform him/her. However it is set up, the students will enjoy the energy that is brought to the learning experience. It’s something they will remember and look forward to happening again.

A small stuffed animal puppet can work well, especially in a kindergarten classroom. A more elaborate puppet can work, too. From what I have seen, you do not need a stage or ventriloquist skills or anything else to “dress up” the experience. Students are drawn to the character alone. The important part is to plan how the puppet reinforces the content.

Here’s a peek at a quick segment that was filmed for Genius Plaza, where I control a puppet who is reviewing some simple concepts with a student.



#HurricaneHarvey Relief Efforts

Harvey Recovery

Today we want to dedicate our blog to focus on  #HurricaneHarvey relief efforts with a focus on education.  We have seen many heroes during this very difficult time and have been inspired to see how people –  from local businesses, NFL stars, celebrities, to teachers – are coming together.

Hurricane Harvey’s Relief Efforts for Education

As we look at these efforts, we can’t forget that school districts across Texas and Louisiana are managing major issues as students prepare to head back to school.  As this Newsweek article points out, schools are going to face many challenges, including delays.  These districts, including Houston ISD, Corpus Christi ISD, and many others had to act quickly, and are providing critical support in various ways, including keeping their communities informed.  One example of this is Houston ISD providing updates via their blog.  These districts are also providing updates via social media.  Houston ISD announced that all students will be able to receive three free meals per day this school year and Corpus Christi ISD shared guidelines on how PTAs can provide support.

Efforts to Help Schools

There are many efforts focused on education.  One that caught our attention is the “Hurricane Harvey Teachers in Need” Facebook group, in which teachers are coming together to adopt classrooms. We also are seeing organizations such as our partner ALAS raising funds in support of these communities.

Celebrating Everyday Heroes

We commend everyone coming together, including many of our employees who are supporting Save the Children

If you know of any other efforts to help schools or kids, please share in the comments section below. Also join us in thanking the first responders, individuals, teachers, administrators, groups, and businesses that are providing critical support.


Don’t Miss the Great American Eclipse!

Great American Eclipse


A total solar eclipse will cross the continental United States on Monday, August 21st. It begins around 9 a.m. or 1 p.m., depending on where in the country you are. The total eclipse will only be viewable from within the “path of totality,” but most parts of the U.S. will be able to see a partial eclipse.

During a Total Eclipse, Several Things Happen at Once

When you’re in the direct path of a total eclipse, several things happen at once. The moon completely covers the sun, and the air temperature drops about 10 degrees Fahrenheit. The horizon becomes vibrant with the colors of the sunset, and the sky fills with stars. Depending where in the world you are, crickets may start chirping and birds may become suddenly louder or quieter. Bugs and mosquitos may emerge, and spiders may destroy their webs. Humans will look to the sky and watch this spectacular and rare event through the index-card-sized screens of their phones instead of with their eyes. Because the moon’s shadow moves at about 2,000 miles per hour, most solar eclipses only last for two or three minutes.

Valuable Moments for Scientists


The rarity of total solar eclipses makes them valuable moments for scientists. We still don’t know much about the effect eclipses have on animals, insects, and plants. Scientists encourage people to observe the area they will be viewing an eclipse from. What animals might be in that area? Are there any slow moving creatures like ants or spiders that would be easy to observe? Though most people may not be able to conduct research with the same level of standards and methods as scientists, an eclipse is a chance for anyone to make discoveries and observations.

If you will be within a few hours of the path of totality, you should make the trip! Not only is it such a spectacular event that some people become “eclipse chasers” and fly all over the world to witness the phenomenon, but it’s also incredibly rare that it will happen to pass through where you live. On average, any point on Earth will experience a total eclipse once every 375 years, and no one can afford to wait that long.

Viewing The Great American Eclipse

Solar Eclipse

If you plan on observing an eclipse, make sure to use proper viewing glasses, which your local library may offer for free! They are thousands of times darker than sunglasses, so unless you plan on wearing 2,000 pairs of sunglasses at once, wearing multiple pairs of shades will provide no protection. Be careful, and avoid permanent damage to your eyes! If you don’t have eclipse glasses, you can make a pinhole viewer with a cardboard box, paper, and aluminum foil. To do this, make a small rectangular hole in one side of the box. Tape aluminum foil over the hole, and poke a small hole in the foil with a pin. Tape the piece of paper on the inside of the box opposite from the hole, and hold your mini-projector up so that the sun’s light passes through the pinhole and projects its image onto the paper! The only time it is ever safe to look directly at an eclipse without glasses is during the few minutes of a total obstruction.

Watching the Great American Eclipse

Few astrological events are as dramatic or observable as eclipses, and anyone who has seen one will urge others to make the trip to the path of a totality. You can find out how close you will be to the path of totality on nasa.gov. Just make sure you use genuine eclipse glasses or a pinhole viewer! Don’t miss out on this rare and beautiful event that will have everyone looking to the sky.

School is Back in Session Soon – here are some tips for middle school students!

Hey Genius Parents!  It’s almost that time of year again…time for our Geniuses to head back to school!  Although this isn’t a new routine, it changes as students get older and move throughout the grades.  Middle school is a new time for both students and parents, as our students begin to take on more responsibilities and become more independent.  Let’s look at a few ways we can help prepare and enable our students:

Organization is key! 

Middle school is a great time for students, because it is typically when they begin moving around to different teachers and classrooms for each subject.  I’m sure our students are excited for this change, but it comes with a catch: there are now different teachers and classes for which students are responsible, and that can create confusion as they adjust to the change.  It’s important to help our students stay as organized as possible, so it’s easier for them to stay on top of their work.  Student planners or agendas are helpful because they allow students to keep track of their workload in the same place.  These are also a great tool for us as parents, because we’re able to track our students’ workloads and homework to make sure everything is getting done.  Folders or binders also help students organize the workloads and handouts they’ll get from all these different classes!

Task management

Time management is more important than ever! 

If you thought you and your students were busy already, it only gets busier!  In middle school, students don’t just have different sports teams they can join, but other extracurricular activities they can participate in, too, including Drama Club, Environmental Club, Key Club, and Odyssey of the Mind, just to name a few.  Even if you don’t think any of those are the right fit for your student, have no fear: there are multiple clubs and activities students can join.  There’s a perfect club for everyone!

Time management and middle school
As great as these opportunities are, our students are at one of the busiest times in their lives, and schoolwork can often fall by the wayside in favor of the more fun activities.  It’s up to us as Genius Parents to help keep our students on track, so they still have enough time to complete their homework and projects for school.  Students can easily build new life skills and friendships through these other activities, but remember the activities are known as “EXTRAcurricular” for a reason!  These are meant to accompany their curricula, not replace it in the slightest.

This is a great time for our middle school students to become more independent as well.

Although they still won’t be driving or leaving for college for quite a few years, this is the perfect time to teach students the importance of being independent and responsible.  It might be a good idea to start on a small scale, such as having a list of chores they can do to help around the house, or even packing their own backpacks and lunches.  As students become more independent in their classrooms, it’s a great time for them to become more self-sufficient in their homes, too.  This autonomy benefits them, and they’ll appreciate the fact that you are recognizing how much they’ve grown up already!


These are just a few of the ways we can begin to enable our Geniuses as they keep growing into strong young adults. 

Summer might almost be over, but the year has only just begun!

Summer shouldn’t just be a vacation

Summer vacation seems like an inextricable part of culture in the United States. Sleepaway camp, sports activities, and lazy days of relaxation seem synonymous with childhood. While the summertime offers many enriching opportunities for children, possible gains are often offset by proven educational losses.

Research shows that students lose literacy skills over the summer break when they are not engaging in supplemental educational activity. A meta-analysis of more than a dozen studies examining students from first to ninth grade found that upon their return to school in the fall, students performed an average of one month behind where they were in the spring. Our former first lady, Michelle Obama, once addressed this problem:

“Summer shouldn’t just be a vacation. Instead, it should be a time to get ahead, to branch out and learn new skills, to have new experiences, like acting in a play or doing some outdoor learning. And for anyone who’s fallen behind, it’s a time to catch up on lessons they missed…and of course, you’ve got to read, read, read!”

Student age and socioeconomic status has an influence over the amount of summer learning loss a child experiences. When first entering school, students from households in different income brackets didn’t differ much in terms of summer learning. However, the difference increased drastically as grade levels rose.

Low-income students became more likely to lose reading and math skills than their higher income peers, while higher income students were shown to be more likely to make gains. This has a domino effect. As the low-income child ages, the farther he or she falls behind as a result of repeated summer learning loss.

But why does socioeconomic status play such a starring role in disparate levels of summer learning loss? The answer may be the relative accessibility of technology and the educational opportunities it provides. Educational technologies equipped with the right strategies can help close the accumulated achievement gap between peers. It can also target students who need it the most, working to improve not only reading and math skills, but also qualities as school attachment, motivation, and their relationships with adults and peers.

Educational technology may be the key to making material fun and more relatable to children. This will help not only when playing summertime catch-up, but also in igniting a child’s thirst for learning. That’s Genius Plaza’s mission – to link recreation and learning.

We work to develop technology to make enjoyable learning accessible to all kids, so they can return to school in the fall refreshed from a summer break, but also ready to tackle the challenges of the school year using not only the skills that have honed, but also their freshly ignited hunger for learning.  We are proud to be a part of the effort to develop new technologies to democratize education for all children.

Parents often ask how they can help their children with summer learning. The most vital thing a parent can do is adapt a positive attitude for the children to mirror. The parents’ attitude toward summer learning will be transferred to the student. They must also help their children to not fall into the trap of complacency. A student may perform well in school during third grade, but this doesn’t ensure the absence of struggle later.

Coasting on current academic success without emphasizing improvement may discourage the student from working hard and developing healthy student habits. This type of student could benefit remarkably from a summertime education program, to not only continue to challenge themselves, but also reduce anxiety in regards to the upcoming school year.

Research shows that even a single summer spent using a quality educational program will show a significant improvement in a student’s skills in various areas including math, language arts, and others. It is recommended that the program last at least five weeks to allow the student the chance to reap all the benefits provided by the educational pioneers who are working hard to provide targeted educational materials in an effort to further the cause of educational equality.  

Vacation time should not be devalued, but it shouldn’t come at a detriment to learning. The games, exercises, and educational literature available through Genius Plaza are developed specifically to keep education engaging, enriching, and easily available to students. Summer should be time for fun–but fun and learning need not be mutually exclusive.


BookExpo America 2017

I recently spent a day with some of my Genius Plaza teammates at BookExpo America (BEA) –the largest annual book trade fair in the United States. The 2017 edition took place over three days at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City.

As someone with one foot in the door of the children’s book publishing industry, this was a great opportunity for me to see publishing friends, meet new ones, attend book signings, and gather as many free books and posters as possible.

But of course, our main focus was to represent Genius Plaza and share our message to “ignite the genius in every child” with the Expo’s 100,000+ attendees.

The Genius Plaza platform contains many options for learning, such as videos, games, animations, and worksheets. Since we were at a book expo, our focus was to highlight our eBooks, which are written by the professional educators on our content team with visual aids provided by our illustrators and graphic designers. Our team at BEA17 did a great job discussing our eBook collection, and explaining the eBook co-creation options that allow our users to write and add visuals to their own digital stories.

A few fortunate BEA attendees won full-year subscriptions to our entire eBook catalog by spinning our Genius Plaza prize wheel. The result of the spin could earn the spinner an instant prize (very cool Genius Plaza pens or Genius Plaza phone/device holders) or a raffle ticket for a chance at one of our bigger prizes – the full-year eBook subscriptions, virtual reality goggles, or a Kindle Fire preloaded with the Genius Plaza platform.

We all feel that our time spent at BEA17 was a real success. Attendees’ reactions to our platform were extremely positive, and we interacted with hundreds of interested and potential customers. We’re already planning for and looking forward to sharing our message again at BookExpo America 2018.

Education Week in Review: May 26th, 2017

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.

This Oakland high school robotics club should be the future of a more diverse tech industry


Zuckerberg tells Harvard we need a new social contract of equal opportunity 

Teachers reveal how education has changed dramatically over the past 20 years 

50 Inspiring Quotes About Teachers 

The importance of challenging & validating students from every background edut.to/2rx7CfK. #equitypic.twitter.com/D5kxJhfFna

Celebrating Multicultural Children Through Literature + Book Review #ReadYourWorld

Level Playing Field (@LPFI)

5/25/17, 11:11 AMLeveling the Playing Field in #STEM for Underrepresented Youth. ow.ly/jik5307ct3h @philjo

Keith Peters (@principalkp)

5/24/17, 3:28 PMThis is why it’s important to remember students’ names and to pronounce them correctly. Value their individuality. #KidsDeserveIt  pic.twitter.com 



valentina gonzalez (@ValentinaESL)

5/23/17, 6:08 PMStages of language development #ELL #ESL #katyool #language #bilingualbit.ly/2q8WBVK pic.twitter.com/hpE040ki4t

Motivating student success with positive STEAM role models

During their school age years, kids are bombarded almost to the point of being overwhelmed with questions about their futures.  On a daily basis, students field questions about things ranging from what college they are going to attend, to where they see themselves in twenty years.  Twenty years!  Most kids can’t place themselves twenty minutes from their current moment in time.  At this point, I will hold back, because I don’t want you to misunderstand me.  Encouraging kids to think about their futures is not a bad thing.  However, if you don’t provide the student with the proper resources for them to have an informed contemplation, let alone make an informed decision, then you’re doing them a great disservice.

click to watch the video

 There is an old saying that if you’re trying to choose a career, you should think about what you would do if you didn’t have to work.  As I reflect back on the days when I took sayings like this to heart, I instantly remember listing every actor, singer, athlete, and fashion designer that I could think of.  Mainstream media made the individuals working in these professions icons, and for young impressionable youth such as myself and many of my friends, we developed the attitude of  “I’ll just do what they do.”  Great idea, right?  Because surely none of these professions required the individual to work!  As you can imagine, over the years, my viewpoint has evolved into a more realistic understanding of the level of  discipline, craftsmanship, and hard work it  takes to excel in these professions.   

click to watch the video

During their school age years, kids are bombarded almost to the point of being overwhelmed with questions about their futures.  On a daily basis, students field questions about things ranging from what college they are going to attend, to where they see themselves in twenty years.  Twenty years!  Most kids can’t place themselves twenty minutes from their current moment in time.  At this point, I will hold back, because I don’t want you to misunderstand me.  Encouraging kids to think about their futures is not a bad thing.  However, if you don’t provide the student with the proper resources for them to have an informed contemplation, let alone make an informed decision, then you’re doing them a great disservice.


click to watch the video

At Genius Plaza, we provide the student with those resources by way of our Learning Champions Initiative.  This incredible program aims to inspire at-risk students by showcasing diverse leaders who look like them and have similar stories, and are currently working in various fields, including STEAM careers.  Learning Champions expose students to their journey from a middle school student to the present.  They share their stories of triumph, sacrifice, and achievement.  They do so while giving the student an in-depth view into a day in the life of their profession.  Teachers leverage the multiple resources that come with the profiles, including animation for younger students, video interviews, six leveled eBooks in English and six in Spanish, vocabulary sets, exercises, worksheets, and virtual reality of their workspaces.  In addition to inspirational content, the Learning Champion sets provide autobiographical content and innovative resources which teachers can use to drive engagement with students.

click to watch the video

I have had the opportunity to interview many of these Learning Champions.  More importantly, I see the impact they are having on students, who now have access to not only their stories, but to the opportunity to learn about different professions, and even experience firsthand where these Champions work through VR video.

With all our Learning Champions and our Genius Plaza team, this is done in hopes of inspiring future generations while closing the achievement gap across the globe, one child at a time, one click at a time.

Google I/O 2017: VR comes into focus in the classroom

This year, on behalf of Genius Plaza, I had the opportunity to attend Google I/O, an annual conference held in California, where Google shares their latest technology and advancements. This year proved no different, with advances in machine learning, Android and – more importantly for Genius Plaza – virtual reality. Google showed various technologies, including stand alone VR headsets and new ways of rendering incredibly lifelike scenes on high-end devices and common web browsers alike. Today I want to highlight three new developments we are excited about and hope to bring to a classroom near you!

Seurat Seurat!

Seurat is a new program that takes HD film quality 3D scenes and quickly allows them to be played on all kinds of mobile hardware. Google partnered with IMXLAB at Lucasfilm to showcase the technology; they took a high fidelity digital set from Rouge One, which was thousands of hours in the making, and compressed the assets from the set to run in real time on a headset.


Click to see a cool example

Exceeding Expeditions

Expeditions  is Google’s virtual reality app built for education. Expeditions AR allows teachers to set up descriptions and points of interest in VR to experience places around the world. With Expeditions AR, students can gather around the Statue of David, a strand of DNA, or even a Category 5 hurricane without leaving the classroom. Teachers guide their students using virtual reality viewers. This program was quite successful, and Google revealed they are opening up the app to developers to create experiences. At Genius Plaza, we are looking forward to testing Expeditions  to help students co-create content and share their local wonders with the world!

Click above to see why we’re so excited about Expeditions


Great Geniuses Think Alike

Google has been thinking a lot about VR experiences and how they work best, specifically in the classroom. The team at Google highlighted three themes of great VR experiences: immersive, interactive, and social. This mirrors 1:1 Genius Plaza’s approach to educating our students. By having our students watch content that is culturally relevant, share what they learn with each other, and reflect on the experience, we have created a cycle that encourages an immersive love of learning.

Google’s team has given us all great tools to push education forward. This quote by Seymour Papert shared by the Google team is a great reminder to keep our eye on the real goal: tapping into the genius that lives in every child.

eBook Sets: A Game-changing Resource for Improving Comprehension Skills

As a teacher, you know that twenty-first century students have diverse literacy needs, and we are now faced with differentiating learning content according to each student’s learning style, interests, and readiness. We have also heard from many of you that one of the main challenges you face with students is related to comprehension skills.

Howard Gardner, a PhD Professor of Education at Harvard University, developed the Theory of Multiple Intelligences, with which many of us are familiar.  There are three general categories in which people learn: visual learners, auditory learners, and kinesthetic learners. Gardner’s work on psychology, human cognition, and human potential led to the development of the initial six intelligences.

Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences

  1. Verbal-linguistic intelligence
  2. Logical-mathematical intelligence
  3. Spatial-visual intelligence
  4. Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence
  5. Musical intelligence
  6. Interpersonal intelligence
  7. Intrapersonal intelligence
  8. Naturalist intelligence
  9. Existential intelligence

When using multimodal content, you create an environment where students feel motivated to participate in activities that fit their learning needs and styles. But the big problem many encounter is finding sufficient time to differentiate by modality, or finding content that fits each student’s learning style. Thematic sets are hard to come by.  Seeking out resources that share the same theme can be time-consuming.

At Genius Plaza, we understand the importance of multimodal content, which is why we provide access to hundreds of thematic eBook sets. These include, but are not limited to, eBooks, videos, vocabulary sets, printables, exercises, and games. Genius Plaza strives to provide teachers with culturally relevant thematic sets, which come nicely packaged to help teachers take back their time, allowing them to focus more on students’ learning needs and developing other skills. With Genius Plaza, you can teach the same concept by assigning one student a video and another an eBook or game, so students have the opportunity to learn verbally, visually, musically, etc.

Explore the benefits of incorporating eBook sets in the classroom.


For more information on Multiple Intelligences and how to apply this theory in the classroom, make sure to keep following my blog. Below, you will find an article with additional information:

Multiple Intelligences: Gardner’s Theory. ERIC Digest.