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Pokemon GO is a Powerful Learning Tool

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Chances are that even if are off enjoying your summer deep in the wilderness, or on a resort island, at some point this week you’ve heard about or have seen people playing the wildly popular Pokemon GO. After downloading the game, players are asked to voyage out into the real-world( fixing one of the problems that’s frequently associated with our plugged in, sedentary, culture) in order to catch mythic and increasingly alluring creatures known as Pokemon(plural). This week there’s been reports of accidents, robberies, and privacy concerns as a result of the game. But there has also been lots of tales about groups of people meeting, helping one another, learning together. They’ll always be some bad apples and anecdotes when we’re ushering in new ideas and innovations, but I try to keep my eyes on the pros long enough to develop my own opinion about something. After all, if my job is to teach kids to become strong critical thinkers, I should be thinking critically.  Take a second to join me and welcome Pokemon GO into your life in order to connect with your students and enhance your instruction.

Part of my practice as both an educator and lifelong learner is to explore analog and digital fads that youth culture have embraced and love in order to help make the lessons I write and the programs I develop stronger. If I understand what my students love and are passionate about, then I can design lessons, units, and activities around or related to their interests in order to help them become stronger readers, writers and critical thinkers. This may seem intuitive, but it’s alarming how many of us big people balk at change, and only focus on the negative aspects of new innovation. With this in mind, I downloaded the app and went out for a stroll.

Within a few minutes of gameplay I realized Pokemon GO is primed for instruction. The application has something for all types of classroom learners. A map renders in real time, waiting for a social studies teacher to finally get their students to love geography; massive amounts of data is being compiled off in a server somewhere that will allow the tech-specialist to finally explain the internet to her students.  Finally a physical education instructor can build that adventure races they always wanted to by using the game as motivation;  English teachers everywhere should rejoice in knowing that students have suspended reality in order to embark on their own hero’s journey, rife with all five types of literary conflict.  Innovative math teachers looking at the game will reel in excitement with all of the possible lessons that are built directly around the data students are collecting. Seeing all this is a powerful way to help more students succeed. After all, by speaking the same language our students do, we can teach them what we want them to know.

While a few of the fads that take our students and children by storm seem to have little or no educational or cultural value( see: Youtube videos of people consuming cinnamon) spending some time to play around with Pokemon GO will offer certain insights into what education will become and how we can remain ahead of the curve. This is an important position to be in, so that its us, the educators, who have a say in how the game will be used in the classroom years to come. If you’re like me, you are tired of having non-educators develop programs, books, ideas about current trends and telling teachers how to bring them into our classroom. By learning and playing Pokemon GO now, you will become an expert on the game and be able to offer valuable advice and personal knowledge as to how it can be used as an instructional scaffold, not the other way around.

Learning to see the world through the lens of our students is a powerful way to ensure that we will become stronger educators and better understand the kids we dedicate our time to. There’s more than a good chance that Pokemon GO isn’t a temporary, passing, trend. By the time school starts up again, it’ll have already made it into the minds and hearts of a large part of your student body. By figuring out ways now to adopt this revolutionary technology in order to help students learn, you will be working with their interests instead of competing against them. Go install it and have a walk around your favorite park-- I bet you’ll come up with some great ideas for lessons and I promise you’ll learn something new!

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Chris O'Brien | @chrisobrienisok 


Chris O'Brien is a former NYC public school teacher and the founder of Lower Bay Learner's Guild, a small consulting group and think tank comprised of working artists, coders, musicians, retired teachers that help districts, individual schools, and teachers build student-centered makerspaces and integrate project-based learning into their current curriculum.  O'Brien's goal is that his current projects, The Propeller Car Challenge and CivCirca, will make it into the hands and minds of every U.S middle school student and their teachers within the next two years.

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Guest Thursday, 25 April 2019