How To Use Pokemon Go For Critical Learning
by TeachThought Staff
So I guess we should discuss this Pokemon thing, huh?
While it may well end up being the twenty-teens version of disco halls and parachute pants, for now–as a trend–its urgent and fierce. Last week, I noticed what I assumed to be a small concert-in-the-park-that-I-didn’t-hear-about letting out with scores of people gathering in the usually empty streets. When the same concert let out the next night–and every night since–I knew that there was no concert.
As with most trends, Pokemon Go is polarizing. Some denounce it as one of the final still-human stages of the zombie apocalypse, while others see it more simply: a fun game. The truth is always a matter of perspective. I started to write about it all more generally as a social trend, but decided instead to focus on the teachers that were interested in it, more specifically how they might use to help create critical learning experiences.
My first reaction was cynicism. Learning through Pokemon Go? May as well follow this up with “12 Strategies For Teaching With A 2 Liter Of Coke,” or “The Hidden Genius Of Donald Trump’s Syntactical Patterns.” No matter what you think of it Pokemon Go as a game, social trends as a basis for learning, or mobile devices as harbingers of cultural decline, there are some opportunities here due to the fundamental design of the gamer itself. As one player put it, “(With) all the violence in the world, brutality, all this…racism. Look around here. You see this?” he said, gesturing to the crowd. “Not a single one is the same. Everyone is having a good time. This is what the world needs now.”
People playing a game together–outside? Smiling? Building collections of cute little digital creatures? For as long as it lasts, we’re in.
Right. So let’s get to it.
How Pokemon Go Works
Pokemon Go is a fairly simple game. You ‘catch’ digital creatures by tracking them on the screen of your phone. All players share the same creatures and map, so if there is a certain Pokemon on the corner of Arlington Ave and State Street on your screen, it’s there for other players as well. Only it doesn’t disappear for them when you catch it–every gets a chance to “catch them all.”
Here’s a fairly long (27 min) video that gives you a basic idea of how the game works, along with some insights as to what attracts young people to the game.
5 Ways To Use Pokemon Go For Critical Learning
This being TeachThought, we’re interested in critical learning–personalized learning experiences that help students improve their lives and the health and well-being of their families and communities. This comes through, among other factors, self-direction, critical thinking, collaboration, and being ‘mobile.’ While Pokemon Go may not be designed to push students to think critically, it may provide a structure within which students can.
1. Explore the community
First and foremost, Pokemon Go is about being mobile, which obviously creates opportunities for mobile learning.
If you want to create opportunities for critical learning in your classroom (by ‘critical learning’ I mean the kind which changes people and communities through careful thinking and thoughtful action), students are going to have to leave that classroom, whether to apply the learning, or participate in experiences that cause learning. Pokemon Go literally can’t function without moving through communities.
While this isn’t simple to add to a lesson plan (Objective: Students will walk around the streets spotting problems), and learning experience worth its salt wants students seeking out and use information in their native places, and Pokemon Go puts them there for you. How you use that is up to you–depends on the student, the community, the content area, age, and so on.
2. Identify problems
It’s easy to dismiss this possibility if students are “staring at their screens,” create a need for them to not stare at their screens. While they’re catching Squirtle (a Pokemon), have them pay attention to the physical world Squirtle was inhabiting. What was going on when he was caught? What was the neighborhood or street like? What was the general ‘health’ of that block? What was that street’s best feature? What is the history of that place? Who lives or works there? What do they tend to do? Want? Need?
What’s gone on there in the past, and might in the future, and how might the student respond?
3. Collaborate with students/peers/professionals outside the classroom
See the video below for not only a (large) bit of digital zealotry, but to witness how a simple game can bring people together. To me, that’s been the biggest takeaway from the Pokemon Go craze: When suitably motivated, people will leave their homes and work together, living, smiling, and celebrating. We’re not, as a culture, becoming anti-social, but selectively social, where introverts with carefully crafted images can compete with charismatic extroverts that normally dominate social interactions.
4. Physical–> Digital Merge Literacy
The ‘Physical–>digital Merge Literacy’ is something I first wrote about last year (and I can’t find the post for the life of me). In short, it’s about the idea of taking data and connections sourced in a digital world and applying them in a physical world, and vice-versa, so that the two seem less distinct.
In the future, where ‘connectivity’ will be ubiquitous (if it isn’t already), being ‘online’ will be like being ‘awake.’ This implies, among other ideas, a need to improve our ability to use one experience to inform another. I’ll write more about this soon. The point for now is that a game like Pokemon Go can help people practice here–become accustomed to the idea of moving their gaze from their screen to the ‘real world’ and back again, one informing and guiding another.
5. Create ideas for self-directed learning
As students move about, have them identify ideas they’re curious about. Problems they want to solve. Projects they can develop. Opportunities they care about. Then help them self-direct their own learning experiences accordingly. Self-direction has to be at or near the center of critical learning.
5 Ways To Use Pokemon Go For Critical Learning