Teaching With Pokemon Go: What’s Possible?
by Jonathan Cassie
Since its summertime release, Pokémon Go! has become a singular sensation in gaming.
With millions of downloads and players, it has captured the imagination of players of all ages. I myself witnessed a woman at least 75-years-old, spry and focused like a laser beam, playing just last week in Seal Beach, California…and competing against me! My fellow player was onto something. The way Pokémon Go! works is fun…and a fun game can always serve as a model for gamified teaching. How might that work?
The mechanics of Pokémon Go! are straightforward. You create a character (and eventually join one of three teams) and using a tool called a PokéBall, you capture creatures out-and-about in the world. Over time you acquire a small assortment of additional tools that make it easier to capture these creatures. To capture all the different sorts of Pokémon you might find, you have to travel to different places. Some Pokémon are easily findable near beaches, for instance, but are quite rare on university campuses. The game also awards you eggs, Pokémon which you only get by incubating the eggs and walking either 2, 5 or 10 kilometers. As you travel, you come upon local sites like public art, notable buildings or monuments. At these PokéStops, you can pick up new PokéBalls, eggs or other benefits.
At some point, the character and the Pokémon she’s gathered become powerful enough to challenge other characters and their Pokémon at different local sites called Gyms. At a Pokémon Go! Gym, you use your own Pokémon to battle other players for rewards and the honor of winning! Fun and stimulating gameplay across the board with the seeds to implement these techniques in a gamified classroom.
Learning objectives that ask students to assemble and integrate data (like a language or math class) are well-suited to the capture and find aspects of Pokémon Go!. Imagine setting up a variety of PokéStops around your campus. Each one can be visited by students as they go about gathering the data they need to accomplish the learning objective you set. Perhaps after traveling about campus, they have to return to your classroom and use the data they’ve gathered like PokéBalls to solve more complex problems that measure your students’ critical thinking abilities.
The data they’ve gathered might help provide a benefit/clue/buff to help them. Once they solve this more complex problem, they capture a Pokémon unique to that question. And let students know that the Pokémon they captured is just one of many! The idea of “catching them all” speaks to the full range of knowledge and skills that are normally embedded in most learning objectives.
Once captured, though, Pokémon are like your character in that they have qualities and levels and can be improved over time. Perhaps you could then give your students a series of highly focused challenges of increasing sophistication that, when answered correctly, causes their Pokémon to level up. Each kind of challenge is designed to advance a particular kind of Pokémon and by extension, give your student an opportunity to demonstrate that they have achieved mastery over a particular topic.
Once the student feels ready, they can take their Pokémon to a Pokémon Gym that you set up on campus as a final challenge. The learning Pokémon Gym would obligate students to use the wide range of learning that they have achieved in the lesson you designed to show that they can defeat the Pokémon in the Gym.
Envision these as being like increasingly difficult challenge questions with the first level being relatively straightforward but the last level being so difficult most students would struggle to answer it. There are rewards in the game for players even if they only defeat the first creature they encounter in a Gym (indeed, some Pokémon Gyms only have one creature to defeat). Don’t hesitate to make the highest level of your Gym the most difficult question you would normally as–or a question that’s so hard, you might not ever ask it.
After playing this out, students might then battle each other by writing questions that would help their peers battle against each other to improve mastery and learning.
Students at my own school recently engaged in just such an experience in their language classes and found it a rewarding experience. They did not like the way the Gym experience had been set up (they thought it started too hard and then got brutally hard), but found the gathering experience compelling.
It is a game with a lot to offer; I would love to work with teams of teachers who wanted to give the model a try in their classrooms!
Jonathan Cassie is the author of Level Up Your Classroom: The Quest to Gamify Your Lessons and Engage Your Students. Cassie is the Director of Innovation at TVT Community Day School in Irvine, CA. He has taught history, English, Latin, and game design at schools in Dallas, Los Angeles, and Pittsburgh. Throughout his 20-year career in independent schools, he has been a student and practitioner of innovation and change in education.