Melissa Pilakowski, Games4Ed and Gamification! | Episode 081

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Melissa Pilakowski teaches English/Language Arts in a small rural high school in Valentine, Nebraska. An advocate of innovation and gamified learning, she also hosts #games4ed on Thursday evenings. She uses blended learning and coaches other teachers trying to integrate technology into their classrooms. In general, Melissa is interested in anything related to literacy, innovation, technology, and how students learn.

Melissa is mainly teaching eleven and twelfth graders a variety of English/Language Arts classes. It is an eight-hour class period of which she has six classes! She is quite busy and technology helps keep her afloat. She likes to include games and games-based learning whenever she can to nudge students. She believes that both tech and games in the classroom help engage her students with their learning.

Melissa’s favorite fail (first attempt in learning) was right on the start when she began to look into gamification (perhaps around 2014) after doing some research and planning her class. She set out a path for her students who were very excited… for the first two or three days. After that, it wore off and she realized that just sticking badges and making assignments to be self-paced was not really the panacea! The kids were disappointed, they told her that it was going to be a game and well, it wasn’t. The choices were quite limited, unlike most games. Also, it was important for her to realize that not all the kids are or will be gamers, especially the fact that their motivations could be different. Another learning for her is that it became so self-paced that she set herself for losing a lot of the relationship with her students. Since that, she has become better at balancing it out and maintaining relationships with students.

Something that comes to her mind as a success in class that she really enjoyed was sort of a spinoff of dominoes with vocabulary. She also used some cards of the Apples to Apples game and added some vocabulary definitions and played domino with it! Using the cards made them think a bit outside of the box. These students were not those who are interested or committed to school, and said: “this is a game that is actually fun to play even though we are at school.” It was exciting for her to see that they were invested in the game while also learning.

She starts her process with an idea, a spark of inspiration and/or some learning objectives. The next thing would be to try to create a game with that, whether an RPG or a card game. For example, she once created a card-deck full of fallacies for a class to learn about them. She then challenged the students to a game-jam, so they would make games with those cards to help identify fallacies that are in advertising and the Internet for example.

A best practice for Melissa would be to realize that games in your class are not a panacea. The curriculum in itself needs to be engaging, it is really hard to successfully enhance through games and gamification when the content is not engaging. Her favorite game, according to time spent at least, would be Clash Royale. She would like to listen Chris Haskell, Adam Powley Noa Lahav and also past guests like Steve Isaacs, Matthew Farber, John Meehan on Professor Game! A recommended book would be Matthew Farber’s Gamify Your Classroom! Melissa’s superpower would be risk-taking. She is willing to try almost anything once, she lets the students know and goes for it!

The random question this time is related to quality control of learning with games and gamification.

Her final advice is to take the risk of going for it! Whether or not you’ve been doing it for a while, try new things and go for it. We can find out more about Melissa on her website and on Twitter @mpilakow. During the episode, she also mentions her email!


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