Last summer, the world of gaming was turned on its head with the release of Pokémon GO, a wildly popular augmented reality game that encourages users to seek out their favorite characters and "catch them all." By connecting to a mobile app, users can comb their communities to search for characters that they collect and "train" for battle.
The game got kids up and moving, but it also kept them staring at their screens, and for this reason many schools banned its use on campus. Like any game, Pokémon GO can be distracting, but some teachers are arguing that by tapping into that distraction, schools might be able to encourage learning like never before.
According to Emily Howell, an assistant professor of literacy at Iowa State University and the author of a newly published article, Pokémon GO: Implications for Literacy in the Classroom, teachers should embrace the enthusiasm generated by Pokémon GO by bringing it and games like it into the classroom rather than banning them.
Here are seven reasons why schools should be taking advantage of the Pokémon GO hype:
1. Kids already like it
Teachers work their butts off trying to get kids excited about various subjects, so why not tap into the buzz already surrounding Pokémon GO and use it to help kids learn their subjects? Instead of forcing kids to memorize geography lessons or math formulas, teachers can use the characters and destinations of Pokémon GO to teach everything from math to geography to creative writing.
2. It's multi-generational
I can't think of another game that has attracted the attention of as many age groups as Pokémon GO has. According to a survey by SurveyMonkey Intelligence, the game is as popular with kids as it is with their parents. It's easy to learn and addictively fun to play, making it the perfect conversation starter for kids of all ages.
3. It can help kids explore their surroundings
Most kids rarely look around at the world around them. Surprisingly, even though Pokémon GO may keep kids glancing at their screens, it also takes them to parks, playgrounds and points of interest in their towns that they might otherwise not have noticed. On a broader spectrum, kids might be more inclined to learn the geography of their state when they realize that they can catch a Caterpie in the forest, a Krabby near water or a Spoink in the mountains.
4. It can improve communication skills
Ask kids to write a paper or make a speech about their favorite president or what they did over summer vacation and you'll likely be met with groans and yawns. But ask them to do the same to explain how to catch a Clefairy and they'll dig into the research with glee.
5. It can help kids practice math
Pokémon GO can turn any boring old math word problem into something kids actually want to solve. Instead of asking kids to calculate the speed of train A before it intersects with train B, you could have them calculate the distance traveled between catches, the angles and directions to the next catch or the weight and height differences between characters. Pokémon GO-themed lessons on statistics, Venn diagrams, measurements and physics are more likely to capture kids' attention than those on topics that don't hold their interest.
6. It brings out creativity
From their names to their designs, Pokémon GO characters are unique and fun to draw, sketch, carve, animate, and write about. Most kids who play the game are already creating art and writing stories about these characters - either those from the game or those of their own creation. So why not tap into that enthusiasm in the classroom with art projects that get them thinking outside the box?
7. It gets kids moving
One of the main benefits that everyone touted when Pokémon GO was first released last summer was that it got kids off the couch on a daily basis. Rather than sitting around watching TV, they were asking their parents to go for a walk after dinner or to take them to the park on weekends. P.E. teachers can take advantage of this trend by creating games that get kids excited to run, jump and move during the day.
Of course Pokémon GO is just one way to get kids excited about what they're learning in the classroom. I'm not advocating that all teaching materials be replaced by an augmented reality game. The point is not so much about this particular game as it is about tapping into the things that kids are already doing to help them learn in a way that's fun and meaningful. At the moment, that's Pokémon GO.