As an academic researcher, educator, and parent, I have watched with great interest as the phenomenon of Pokemon Go has rapidly entered the everyday lives of adults and children alike. Through interactions and conversations with my own children, I have witnessed the various forms of learning and applications of a variety of skills that are taking place without any sort of educational intervention, and I have already had several opportunities to present to educators about some of the curricular connections that exist.
Numeracy is perhaps the most obvious curricular connection. For instance, without my guidance, my nine-year old son (who feels that math is not his “thing”) was able to determine the most efficient use of the infinity egg incubator (that it should be only used on 2K eggs) in order to clear the greatest number of eggs from the Pokemon Go egg tray. As well, he was able to recognize strategies for maximizing evolution combat power (CP) of Pokemon Go characters using Pokemon Go evolution calculators available on the web. There are certainly a great number of mathematical concepts (ratios, estimation, frequency, multiples, probability, range, mean, factors, distance, measurement, mapping) that could be discussed through the typical activities presented in Pokemon Go.
Other subject-area connections exist as well. In relation to health and fitness, Pokemon Go has allowed for rich opportunities for open discussion with my children on topics such as movement, health tracking, gaming addiction, personal safety, attention, and other issues that are important for all of us in a technology-infused world. As well, in terms of information literacy, widely circulated Pokemon Go “hacks” (which are not always accurate, and sometimes ill-intentioned) have provided rich opportunities for discussion of the authenticity and verification of source materials and the implications of utilizing false information. And from a social justice perspective, the story of Nick Johnson, the first Pokemoner who successfully “caught them all,” provides a unique opportunity to discuss wealth, economic disparities, and the digital divide which means that some individuals (with greater privilege) have advantages over other players, in both the gaming world and in life.
I would, however, offer this note of caution: I have been careful in the past not to rush to “educationalize” every game, social network, and virtual space that emerges. I wholeheartedly believe that educators should be aware of, and ideally experiment with, new apps and tools, as I believe that this provides a wonderful opportunity for making connections with students as well as equipping teachers with the knowledge and understanding to guide students to engage with technology safely and effectively. In this vein, the Back to School Advice Report provides an excellent collection of resources that speak to the social and educational effects of the game, a thorough overview of the possibilities for using Pokemon Go in the classroom, and a thoughtful summary of necessary precautions and issues to consider, and as such, the report is a very useful read for educators returning to their classrooms this fall. However, as educators, we should be mindful of the importance of youth having the necessary spaces to play in without the persistent intervention of adults hoping to co-opt spaces for specific curricular outcomes, and this should be a major consideration as we think about introducing an app like Pokemon Go into the classroom.
Famed Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan once noted, “A light bulb creates an environment by its mere presence;” that is, the tools and technologies that surround us play an important role in shaping our world. As such, it is vital for educators to keep abreast of emerging technologies like Pokemon Go in order to understand the world in which we and our students live. On this basis, reports like this one are critically important for all educators as we meet the changing demands, challenges, and possibilities of our connected world. Alec Couros | Professor | ICT Coordinator | Faculty of Education | University of Regina