Principal’s Conference 2017: From Brain Storming To The Student, Genius Plaza’s Foundation Is Diversity
With our background in startups and edtech (as separate verticals), diversity has been a strong issue and topic in our startup world over the past month or so. Starting with Susan Fowler’s recounting of her experience at Uber, that ultimately led to the resignation of Travis Kalanick, to revelations in Forbes that even one of our favorite VC’s and accelerator leaders, Dave McClure is also guilty of sexual harassment and possibly discrimination.
So it’s been a breath of fresh air to talk about diversity in education here at the nibletz.com office. It’s our pleasure to bring not one but two stories about education technology companies and their founders who are champions of diversity from the top down, from brainstorming sessions in their own offices, right down to their end user.
Genius Plaza is an education platform dedicated to democratizing education. They offer literally thousands of activities and resources for parents and teachers across math, language arts and science. Their entire platform is bilingual. The company’s entire ethos is diversity, intentional diversity from the top down.
The Genius Plaza product is designed to offer unparalleled and uninterrupted equal access to education for students, regardless of their background, heritage, or ability.
“Genius Plaza has expanded its reach to close the academic achievement gap among students across the globe. Genius Plaza was created by a diverse group of educators, programmers, designers, and leaders who believe that education is the only sustainable development vehicle that is available to all, with access as the only barrier.” the company says on their website.
This is driven by the Ana Roca Castro, Genius Plaza’s founder and CEO and the intentionally diverse team she has assembled. In a medium post by Ellen Pao, a true champion of diversity in the startup space, Castro talks about real discrimination she saw as a student and as a professional. “When I first came to this country teachers did not realize how advanced I was in math because of my accent,” she told Pao.
Imagine how that must feel for the millions of students that experience discrimination in the classroom, discrimination they may not even realize until much later in life.
That’s why Genius Plaza makes sure that all of their lessons include all aspects of people and highlights people of all shapes, colors and backgrounds. One of their products is a STEAM focused product that takes a look at real people in real careers that involve STEM/STEAM skills. Genius Plaza uses a diverse range of professionals to highlight in this curricula. You’ll see doctors, lawyers and other professionals from different backgrounds. One of their videos features a Latina dentist who talks positively about working through the struggles as a wife, parent, and a dentist. They even have a song video that teaches kids about Ellen Pao’s own journey to becoming a venture capitalist.
Over the course of the summer Genius Plaza is offering a series of lessons called “Summer Victory Challenge” designed to “save your kid’s learning this summer”. These activities are great refreshers for students who may have forgotten lessons from the previous school year. We already have our 9 year old edtech reporter working on the language arts lessons in this section.
Children should never experience racism or discrimination in the classroom they also shouldn’t experience any kind of divide when it comes to the educational resources provided to them. But Castro knows that experience all to well. In that same medium post, Castro talked about being asked to speak at two different schools, one in an affluent neighborhood where she spoke alongside doctors and lawyers. At the Title I school she was the only adult speaker with a college degree.
It’s this divide that no one wants to talk about, that drives Castro and her team to make sure education is available and accessible to all students. Availability is one thing but accessibility is an entire other matter. By offering a truly bilingual platform Genius Plaza leverages technology to make their educational products truly accessible. Within the platform itself parents can choose English, Spanish or a bilingual track. That third track is key in some instances for students that are learning both Spanish and English simultaneously.
Genius Plaza is built on a “genius centered approach”.
- Learn: Students learn from their educators and from the many resources available in the Genius Plaza Learning Bank.
- Reflect: Every Genius Plaza resource gives students the opportunity to reflect with comments and reviews.
- Re-teach: Students take ownership of the lesson by using our co-creation tools to re-teach the skills using their unique creativity. This is when the magic happens!
- Peer review: Once co-creations are completed, students reflect on each other’s work by adding comments and/or votes to the best game, video, eBook, or worksheet. This means: repetition, critical thinking, and mastery!
This approach really works to making sure students grasp the material and aren’t just reading and not absorbing. Take these four pieces of their didactic method and add in the diversity piece and you have one well rounded educational company.
I would encourage you to read the entire medium post with Ellen Pao and Ana Roca Castro here, it’s eye opening.
You can visit with the Genius Plaza team at the National Principal’s Conference, July 8th-11th in Philadelphia, booth #934 and online at geniusplaza.com