Common Core

Gamified Digital Learning Is Helping Students Meet the Challenge of CCSS

Mark Malaspina is the President of CFY, the national nonprofit organization behind the free digital learning platform PowerMyLearning. In this interview, he talks about how the platform is helping students learn Common Core skills and prepare for online assessments — and how gamification is turbo-charging that process.

THE Journal: Can you give me some background on CFY? Was it started specifically to help students meets the Common Core State Standards?

Mark Malaspina: CFY was founded in 1999, long before the Common Core State Standards. But even from the beginning, our goal has aligned with the Common Core in that we use digital learning to help K-12 students improve their educational outcomes, and become better prepared for success in college and beyond. 

We believe that digital learning, when it’s people-centered, can be an equalizer, ensuring that all students have first-rate learning experiences. Our work fosters growth in teachers as instructional leaders, in parents as support partners and in students as learners who can meet the challenge of high academic standards and also discern which learning strategies work best for them.

To accomplish our goals, we engage in deep partnerships with selected schools in five regions of the country. We provide teachers with intensive coaching and provide students and parents with devices and training. We are now taking our learnings from this regional effort and spreading them nationwide through our service offerings for schools, districts and after-school programs.

Underlying all of our work is PowerMyLearning, our free K-12 digital learning platform, which is already in use in 30 percent of school communities across the nation and is growing fast. From its inception, PowerMyLearning was architected to align tightly with the Common Core standards.

THE Journal: What is PowerMyLearning designed to do, and what are some of the K-12 schools districts that are using it?

Malaspina: is our free Web platform for personalizing instruction and inspiring student-driven learning. We designed it to motivate and support all key constituents in the learning process: students, parents and educators. The platform offers a flexible and fun way to implement blended learning in the classroom and beyond.

Educators can choose individual activities or playlists of activities from the thousands of curated games, videos and simulations already on PowerMyLearning. They can combine them with their own self-created content or online tools that are part of an existing school curriculum. The result is a completely customized experience that meets each student’s individual needs.

With thousands of activities from over 800 publishers, PowerMyLearning eliminates the hard work and guesswork that goes into finding the best digital content available on the Web. All activities have been vetted by our team of experienced educators; tagged by subject, grade and activity type; and then aligned to the Common Core standards through a multi-step review process.

PowerMyLearning activities are selected not just for their educational value, but also for their engagement factor. The gamification features we developed with Bunchball offer children extra motivation to use these activities.

PowerMyLearning also enables parents to help support their children’s success. Parents can see their children’s playlist assignments, view reports on which activities they have been using and set PowerMyLearning goals for kids tied to real rewards.

PowerMyLearning is being used by individuals in more than 30,000 school communities nationwide. Additionally, we have relationships with a range of schools, districts and organizations, including Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the New York Public Library, the Los Angeles Public Library and Boys & Girls Clubs in multiple states. 

THE Journal: Have you seen measurable increases in achievement and engagement in districts using PowerMyLearning? 

Malaspina: Our partner schools have increased their statewide ranking by an average of 10 percentile points as determined by the percentage of students meeting proficiency in math. Students display increasing ownership over their learning, averaging at least one hour on self-selected activities for every hour of teacher-assigned activities. This ownership equips them with skills that will help them meet the demands of the Common Core and succeed in college and beyond.

Student engagement surveys have found that 89 percent of students said their control over their learning was improved that year by how their teachers use computers and how their family supports them. In addition, 88 percent said that, “PowerMyLearning lets me choose what I want to learn.”

More than 91 percent of teachers feel confident using PowerMyLearning to search for activities that match Common Core standards, and 95 percent of parents trained on the PowerMyLearning platform feel more confident that they can help their child learn.

THE Journal: What made you want to add the Bunchball gamification to PowerMyLearning?

Malaspina: With over 15 years of experience in the digital learning space, we recognize the importance of engagement in driving student ownership of learning. Plus, feedback from students using PowerMyLearning indicated an interest in interactive features that would make the experience more fun. We are always exploring innovative ways to motivate students to visit PowerMyLearning more frequently and to get them to spend more time on-site once they are there. This is why we were particularly eager to build more gamification elements into our platform with the help of Bunchball.  

THE Journal: Are you rolling out the gamification gradually, or is it now part of what you are offering all the districts you work with?

Malaspina: All users of the platform – students, parents and educators at any district  can take advantage of the gamification features we developed with Bunchball. Here is a description of those features:

  • Students: When students log in, they are welcomed to Wizmo World, a virtual universe filled with high-quality, vetted digital learning activities. Each student can choose his/her own avatar, tackle quests, earn “Power” by completing activities and compete with friends. A student needs to earn Power to advance his/her Wizmo (the iconic characters of Wizmo World) to the next level.
  • Parents: To motivate their children to spend more time with PowerMyLearning educational activities, parents can establish PowerMyLearning goals tied to tangible rewards and track progress online.
  • Educators: Teachers can use the class leaderboards on PowerMyLearning to create healthy competition among their students. They allow students to see where they rank among classmates, and all of the Wizmo World features help teachers keep their students motivated year-round.

THE Journal: Have you seen measurable increases in achievement and engagement in districts that are using the gamified platform? 

Malaspina: Since gamification was incorporated, we have seen a 42 percent increase in the time students spend on PowerMyLearning, as well as nearly a threefold increase in the number of pages students view per visit. Without a doubt, students are motivated to spend more time learning as they earn Power in Wizmo World, connect and compete with friends, and earn rewards set by their parents.

THE Journal: How does gamification help students learn Common Core skills and prepare for the online assessments?

Malaspina: First, the individual high-quality learning games and simulations on PowerMyLearning help students learn Common Core skills and prepare for Common Core assessments. Our curation team carefully looks for activities that tightly align to Common Core standards and support the development of conceptual understanding, application and fluency as called for in the standards. The recent Joan Ganz Cooney study “Level Up Learning” confirms that integrating gaming into instruction can improve student’s core skills.

PowerMyLearning also provides certified playlists, which are sequences of individual games and simulations that together can support the rigor and breadth of the Common Core standards. Educators can use these playlists as is or adapt them as needed; they also can add their own activities and create their own playlists to address different aspects of the Common Core.

The PowerMyLearning activities themselves help students build comfort with the technology-enhanced items that will appear in the online Common Core assessments. These activities allow students to practice skills and concepts using functionality like Drag and Drop, Hot Spot and Click and Pop, and also give them an opportunity to build their comfort level with tools like a graphing calculator.

Finally, the gamification features on the PowerMyLearning platform encourage students to make progress in their learning and spend more time on task – a key determinant of students’ success in learning.

THE Journal: If a district wants to work with you, how do they go about it?

Malaspina: Any educator, student, parent, school or district can go to, create a free account and start using our digital learning platform. Our organization does develop more formal relationships as well.

We have a PowerMyLearning Network that is open to any school, district, library, after-school program or education organization that wants to adopt PowerMyLearning as part of its digital learning strategy to drive student achievement. Joining the Network is free, and members get access to benefits like free online training webinars for staff.

Also, in five regions of the country, we offer in-person services, including blended learning consulting for educators as well as workshops for both educators and families. Our consultants help schools integrate digital resources and develop sustainable blended learning practices to create more personalized learning experiences for students, drive student ownership and increase family involvement in learning, ultimately preparing students to meet the challenge of the Common Core.