I recently have seen a storm of not-so-nice comments regarding PokemonGO on social media.  That made me pause. After all, PokemonGO is a gamification of fitness training.  As one of the memes argued,  “PokemonGO did in 24 hours what Michelle Obama has worked towards the past eight years.”

But PokemonGO plays into many educational strengths and serves as a good lesson about educational design.  It also includes the sort of intangible joy factor in learning teachers would love to find.  We just need to think about why this game has caught on, and then apply the ideas to our classroom as we go forward.  Here’s some thoughts to ponder, or share for those who might be disparaging your students or, in some cases, young adults who are your colleagues.

Get a Life

meme via Facebook, 7/2016

The app uses Background Knowledge.  For effective learning, students need to have a scaffold to hang knowledge upon, and that is usually stored in long-term memory as a chunk. I will be honest, what I know about Pokemon harkens back to the card decks, the slogan ‘gotta catch ’em all’ and Pikachu.  That’s it.  But my own children see this as part of their childhood, and invested memory.  That’s a powerful stimulus to connect with and engage.  The app can transfer information, and you learn as you go, which is a type of metacognition that is intrinsic.

The Game Engages Multiple Senses.  Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences is based in cognitive study (note: this is different than a learning preference), engaging multiple areas of the brain. We all have strengths and weaknesses, and PokemonGO uses music, color, kinetic motion, touch, and choices (PowerUp stardust, caterpie candy) to create a valuable tool for engagement .

It Teaches Persistence.  I downloaded PokemonGO myself, and tried it. That’s a few hours of my life I might have have spent reading or laughing, but I am glad I tried this activity.  I was able to catch five or six of the critters, but I needed to try repeatedly to catch those things (apparently, I’m not very good at throwing the pokeballs).  It appears that the higher in the game you progress, the harder it is to catch something.  More importantly, I know have some background knowledge of my own to help me with kid-friendly conversations.

Boredom is Built In.  One thing I tell my kids repeatedly is that boredom is a gift of the mind that frees us when we are doing repetitive tasks.  That did not help me when I found my fourth Ratatta in two hours.  Seriously?  There are 151 of these critters out there, and I find duplicates? Oh, yeah….the value of boredom.  🙂

Social Studies is Integrated. Mapreading skills are built right into the app (it was designed on top of Google maps), and pokestops are often monuments that have a historical aspect to them, which I appreciate.  This leads to conversations on appropriateness and when gaming is not appropriate, Churches and synagogues have worked to place welcoming hospitality near their buildings.  That’s a community engagement piece often missing from schools, and invites local history.

Added to these aspects, of course, are some specific 21st Century skills worth considering.

Collaboration.  What team are you, and how do you work together?  It’s a 21st century skill to be able to work with others. It is also a skill needed to engage other players by battling Pokemon at a gym.  Pick a team or work by yourself, and think about the possibilities.

Conversation on a friend’s wall:   “I heard a kid at subway saying that someone has all the gyms.  He said he needed to bring some buddies to help him get them.”

“Looks like he brought his buddies.  Fire station is now a Level 3 yellow. I could take it down in like 20 minutes but I only have me to defend it at this hours.”


STEM concepts.  Pokemon evolve, and hereditary is traced from one species to a new version.  Pokemon faint, and need some sort of solution to revive them in a gym.   Pokemon can be organized into families and your students can create their own dichotomous keys. Incubating eggs require you expend energy by walking a 5K.

Financial Literacy.   There’s a Pokestore, of course, with a variety of tools and options players can buy, which leads to the inevitable conversations that people have about the value of digital merchandise (my children don’t even ask any longer).  But think about this on a real money scale:  PokemonGO catapulted shares of Nintendo by $12 billion dollars in two days and opened up the idea of AR (augmented reality) in a way that Google Glass and cardboard 3d sets have not been able to do.

Hacking.  No one wants to talk about this aspect of computer literacy, but understanding how a game works, the privacy settings, and the ability to play a game while on an iPod or offline are all part of the step-by-step tutorials students have shared with me in the past week.   That’s a pretty savvy set of transferable skills my students have gained, all on their own.

As we head into the August school landscape, I hope for some discusions to arise.  Comments like  “You know, some of the players are walking into pretty tough areas,” remind me that not all of my students are in living in great locales. “Some people are making stupid choices,” opens the door for life lesson topics, and awareness of surroundings.  I know this is not all a win, but there’s a lot about this game to appreciate.

Differentiation and Personalization. Ultimately, the end goal of the game is absolutely up to you.  That’s powerful.  Play, or not play.  Your choice, and your fitness consequences, contained in one package.  I’ve seen people who have talked about a 10K in the morning, followed by a 5K in the evening.  To take this back to your classroom, how can you use this model to build relevance in your own curriculum?

Finally, hearing statements like,  “I found this park that I never knew existed.”  really give me hope.  Maybe PokemonGO means Go Outside after all.  Sounds a lot like a win-win.



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