Educators brace themselves for back-to-school as Pokemon captures kids' attention – again


Pokemon characters are showing up in malls, libraries, parks – and maybe schools.

With the resurgence of the wildly popular 90s game this summer, teachers may have to brace themselves for the distraction it could cause when school is back in session. But some experts say there is a big opportunity to use the rebooted childhood favorite as a learning tool.

“I don’t think there’s inherent learning value to the game itself, but it presents tons of learning opportunities that I think teachers can maximize in the classroom to really engage students,” said Rebecca Randall, vice president of education programs and partnerships at Common Sense Education, an organization that follows edtech trends and reviews classroom apps.

Through the app, which uses a real-world gaming platform, players physically search their surroundings to find beloved old characters, like Pikachu and Charmander. As they search, their smartphones indicate when they are near a Pokemon character. When the colorful creature appears on their screen, players aim their phones to “throw a Poke Ball” and catch the character.

The virtual reality aspect of the game ties in with a lot of what students are now doing in school.

“This is so significant in an education context, because Pokemon Go is really showing us the potential of augmented and virtual reality apps and devices,” said Jonathan Godfrey, vice president for public affairs at ACT The App Association, a group that represents apps and information technology firms.

Education experts say that the added augmented reality is what really attracts people of all ages to the game now. For example, Randall said her 19-year-old son wasn’t interested in Pokemon when it reigned as a card game and a TV show, but now, he is totally immersed.

“We should use these games as a teachable moment, and as an opportunity to engage with our students and children, because they are really excited, and you can make connections,” she told EdScoop.

Experts also say they think there are many ways the game can be used in school. For example, educators can use it to teach history. Many of the locations that players are directed to, called “Poke Stops,” are local landmarks – like statues, libraries and parks.

The game also requires players to walk a certain distance to hatch eggs and unleash new characters, which can be incorporated into physical education classes. That means kids can get active while expanding their Pokemon collection at the same time.

While the game has been extremely popular since its launch last week, it also poses privacy and safety issues, Randall said.

The Pokemon Go developer, Niantic, Inc., is still working to find a solution to its biggest privacy challenge – when users register to play using their Google account information, the app is granted “full access” to their Google accounts. It captures almost all of their data and shares their location with other users.

“We know already that people have been targeted for assault and robbery because the perpetrators found them through the app,” Randall said.

That happened in Anaheim Park in California on Wednesday, when a man who was playing the game was stabbed several times by a group of people in their teens or early 20s, according to NBC Los Angeles. Two men also on Wednesday fell off a cliff while engrossed in the hunt for characters, according to the Los Angeles Times.

In addition to revealing personal information, the app has also led players to sketchy locations. In one incident, the app led players to a living facility that houses registered offenders, the L.A. Times reported.

Common Sense, in their recent Pokemon Go review, recommended that kids ages 13 and older play the game, which “should be used with trusted adults, guidance and co-engagement,” Randall said.

While there are always some risks involved in using technology and games in the classroom, kids and adults need to learn how to use them wisely, cautioned Simon Hauger, principal of Workshop School in Pennsylvania.

“People have to be responsible to ensure that the game isn’t used for bad,” he said. “The idea behind the Pokemon Go game is still very strategy-based, so there are a lot of critical thinking skills being developed while [kids] play.”

The innovative high school in Philadelphia promotes digital citizenship in its curriculum, and students are allowed to bring their cell phones to class and use them when they are part of an assignment. Kids are also allowed to use their phones during their lunch period.

“We’re trying to empower students to learn how to use their phones responsibly,” Hauger said. “Banning cell phones would be an easy solution to kids wanting to be on them all day, but [then] you give up the students’ ability to learn how to use them responsibly.”

Cell phones and games can be a distraction, Hauger admits, but he hopes his school will be able to design a project that is centered around Pokemon Go. He sees potential in the problem solving, collaboration and physical activity involved with the game.

Experts agree that Pokemon fever will likely not die down – and the game will still be popular when September rolls around.

“Pokemon Go shows that we’ve only scratched the potential for augmented and virtual reality,” said Godfrey. “We’re at the earliest stages of adoption, and the technology is still progressing rapidly.

“We see the promise that this technology holds, particularly in an educational setting, and we’re really excited about the possibilities.”

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