Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Pokemon Go: Problem or Opportunity?

Pokémon seems to be an enduring attraction for students. This past year, I noticed quite a few of my students with Pokémon cards. I've purchased a few of the guide books for our library, and they are constantly checked out. If you are unfamiliar with Pokémon, the creators’ Parents’ Guide provides a good overview.

Pidgeotto in my living room
The newest incarnation is Pokémon Go, an augmented reality game played on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. The game shows players or “trainers” on a map of their local area. Walking around the neighborhood, players will come across wild Pokémon which can be caught using a Pokéball. I have only started playing, but one feature I love is that I can take a picture of a Pokémon with the real world as a background! My understanding is that I can help my Pokémon get stronger and evolve into new forms. Eventually I will be able to join a team, battle other Pokémon, and take control of a local Pokémon gym where I can continue competing.

In the couple of days since the free app was released, I have immediately noticed people playing in my area. Taking my dog out, I saw three boys walking by my house with their phones out. “Looking for Pokémon?” I asked. “Yeah, it’s great! I’ve already walked two miles today!” one responded. On top of the existing popularity of the whole Pokémon franchise, players now have the chance to bring their gameplay into the real world, a powerfully appealing opportunity.

Pinsir near shopping area
So what does this have to do with education? Thinking back to those Pokémon cards, I know that I have reacted to their presence at school primarily as a potential problem. I saw them as a distraction at best and the source of student conflicts over trades or theft at worst. But shouldn’t I treat student enthusiasms as an opportunity instead? Can I find a way to connect students’ interest in Pokémon with more traditionally educational topics?

No doubt many of our students with mobile devices are out there right now catching and training Pokémon. And I doubt the fervor will die down before they come back to school in August. They’ll be excited to show their classmates their best Pokémon and possibly trade and battle each other. Is this going to be a distraction to the learning experience or something we can leverage?

I’ve started to think about ways we could help students connect Pokémon GO experiences with our curricula. They could learn about sampling a population by tracking how many Pokémon show up in a certain area over a certain amount of time. Each Pokémon has different abilities which parallels the idea of animal adaptations. When the game allows for trading, supply and demand is going to become an important dynamic. This game also encourages exercise as players are motivated to go out in search of more Pokémon.

How else could we leverage Pokémon GO for student learning? Please share your ideas on this Padlet.