Pokémon Go – 7 Game-changing Approaches to Learning Outside

15 January 2017 · 2 comments

in Digital & ICT Outdoors, Personal & Holidays, Science Outdoors, Social Subjects Outdoors, Technologies, Urban

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Last year I spent a lot of time on the road. I’ve had the privilege of working in many different areas of Australia before visiting several international schools in Hong Kong. I was briefly back home before joining the Education Iceland study trip and conference.

About 2 weeks into my Australian visit, fellow blogger, Teacher Tom, suggested I should play Pokémon Go on my tour. He wrote about his initial experiences in this blog post. Now given that I’ve never been the gaming type and am bored silly by most computer games I try, I was curious to find out more. When people who’s opinions you value, give you their thoughts, you cannot but chew over them.

When I mention to other people, children and adults, the opinion is split very definitely into those who are playing and those who don’t and won’t. Quite a few adults are surprised that I would even consider this form of entertainment. So what’s its draw…? How did it lure me into its wicked web ways?

From a personal perspective, and I’ve found a lot of adults saying this too, it gets you out and about. When you land in a strange city or town, following a trail of Poké-stops provides me with a walk. It enables me to explore places that I might not have considered and easily discover information and knowledge that a tourist board doesn’t mention. Every Poke-Stop provides a picture of a plaque, public art, place of religion or quirky object to find near by. I can quickly pick up snippets of information that add value to my walk.

The capturing of the Pokémon creatures is fun. Please do not worry – they present themselves to you and can run away if they decide they don’t want to be caught. Likewise I can ignore them if I’m in a critical moment such as walking across a busy road or paying for something in a shop.

The game is self-explanatory and is forgiving about mistakes. You can pick and choose how you play the game and whether or not you wish to play entirely for free or buy some luxury items such as lucky eggs!

The amount of walking and exercise involved is great. For a middle-aged woman who is only growing outwards not upwards, this is particularly beneficial. The introduction of the “buddy” system is lovely. I now have a friendly Kangashan who accompanies me in a virtual sense and provides me with a candy every 3km.

The game has a story and history. I remember when the Nintendo game came out and the TV series and the merchandise. Children loved the game, the characters and what was happening. It fascinates me that the founder was an amateur entomologist who combined his love of insects with his other love of creating computer games. I have a topic of conversation and can discuss the ins and outs of the creatures and the game with children and adults.

It’s not geocaching. Pokémon Go is more interactive. It’s not focused on a destination but the journey is the fun. I walk, I notice the landscape. I appreciate my surroundings as a quiet buzz on my phone that tells me a creature is nearby. It’s doesn’t need to be played intrusively with my eyes glued to my phone.


The Education Application of the Game

My interest is in how we can apply the concept of Pokémon Go to an outdoor and educational context. The different components of the game all provide me with inspiration to change my game, to keep my teaching relevant to children’s interests and needs. Although the game has declined in popularity since the summer, the lessons learned may well live on. Several good articles provide good arguments and perspectives around the educational application of the game:

As so often happens the outdoor learning element is often diminished when teachers start creating lessons so I want to add some ideas here which keep the focus of the game where it was born… outside!


1.Learn about local wildlife and biodiversity

For me, Pokémon Go has totally changed my opinion of databases and wildlife identification. As a child I wasn’t particularly interested in wildlife. I was always disappointed that there were no pandas in the local neighbourhood other than at a zoo. It was undertaking an environmental science degree that provided the motivation to learn some basic flora and fauna. With plant and animal identification, the more one learns, generally the easier it is to apply the knowledge to identify further plants and animals, especially if you understand taxonomy. This is where Pokémon Go can help – the system is highly motivating for finding and learning more about the fantasy creatures – there are things we can apply to learning about local wildlife and biodiversity.


2. Make up more interesting names for any identified wildlife

Most of the Pokémon creatures have names that are variations on known wildlife. For example:

  • Ekans is a snake. When it evolves it becomes an arbok. The names are reversed.
  • Caterpie look like caterpillars. They have a two-step evolution becoming a metapod and then emerging as a butterfree.
  • Tangela is a vine Pokémon.

By having fun and using word play based upon associations, then a connection with found plant or animal can be made. Often local common names are very apt and descriptive. A further step can be to explore the botanical name for further clues to adapt a common name.


3. Consider evolved forms of identified wildlife

An exciting aspect of Pokémon Go is the evolution of some of the “mon” – the creatures into bigger, stronger forms. Thus encouraging children to think about how a plant or animal could evolve is a way of finding out more about the wildlife in order to make the evolved character true to form. The children will need to consider names and characteristics for evolved creatures which can be based upon key scientific principles:

  • Adaptation: why does the animal have the features it does and the function of each characteristic. For example grasshoppers have very strong, large legs which are useful for jumping. Would these change if the grasshopper evolved into a higher form?
  • Life cycles: is the evolution of a creature linked to its life cycles and growth in real life?
  • Food chains: does the evolution of the animal affect the food chain within its ecosystem? Does it change from being a herbivore to an omnivore?
  • Diversity: Consider how each creature is different. Biodiversity is about exploring differences within and across species and ecosystems. Will the evolved form remain fit and strong and able to survive in its ecosystem?
  • Type: Pokémon Go categorises creatures into elemental types which remain constant. The evolved wildlife forms will also have to keep this consistent.

Children will need to draw or sketch and annotate these carefully so that everyone knows what they look like and the characteristics of the evolved forms. All these discussions and drawings create understanding and interest so that children are learning about local wildlife in ways that they may find more appealing.


4. Consider individual values

The “IV” ratings within the game are hidden statistics which affect the ability of a creature to cope when in a battle. Thus it is a context for discussion biodiversity and how we as humans are all different, as are other plants and animals and so are fantasy creatures within Pokémon Go.

  • If two children draw their ideas for the same evolved creature, then encourage them to compare and contrast the drawings in a scientific way and how this may impact upon their survival chances.
  • Try and work out ways of measuring some of the physical aspects of a creature. How do you weigh and measure the length a worm safely and kindly? Is it safer to check online or from an ID book?
  • What are the key survival features of a found plant or animal? For example, the long tap root of a dandelion is able to regrow a new dandelion even when the plant has been picked. This is one of its adapted survival strengths.


5. Create a local wildlife index

A big discussion point within Pokémon Go is the Pokédex – an index of all the creatures you can find. Each one provides a little story, the number of sightings and indicates the evolution possibilities. This can be easily applied to a class or group project on a specific topic such as birds or a general interest in wildlife:

  • How common is the creature? Some wildlife are common, some are rare. Consider ways of capturing this information – perhaps this could be through frequency of sightings when outside, a bioblitz or Opal survey. Discussions about the rarity of some creatures and why some are able to cope with human activity can arise.
  • Look for spawn sites. In Pokémon Go there are spawning sites where particular “mon” can be found. What creatures are commonly found where and why can instigate a lot of discussion about habitats and lead on to habitat creation work.
  • What is the story behind the found plant or animal? Encourage children to create very short paragraphs that explain a little bit about their favourite wildlife they have found outside in a useful and memorable way.


6. Encourage children to create their own “mutant” game

At Beacon School in Brasil, the children created their own simple version, which is beautifully articulated in this blog post. The purpose was to create the creatures, hide them and then find others placed by other children all over the school, inside and out.


7. Develop Poké-Stops in your school grounds

Poké-Stops are places where you visit to collect items to put in your rucksack. They are usually local features of interest and not necessarily the ones the local tourist office would know. They include plaques, all sorts of art work from street mural to big sculptures and places of interest which include churches, historical buildings, park noticeboards and interpretation panels and so on.

  • Within your school grounds what places would make interesting Poké-Stops and why?
  • What information would be good to have at each Poké-Stop? Occasionally you find a pithy comment within the game. Would the children go for facts, riddles, jokes, a personal statement or something else? This can help children provide the evidence that they have visited the Poké-Stops
  • What symbol should represent a Poké-Stop and how big or small does this need to be?


Finally… it would be lovely to be able to link to other outdoor applications of Pokémon Go that you know of or have used. So please get in touch or comment below. Whilst the game’s popularity may be by-gone, the underlying concepts remain clever approaches to engaging children in ways which appeal to them… and that should never go out of fashion 🙂

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Megan Whitney January 18, 2017 at 05:00

Once again you have blown me away Juliet! How did you get so amazing? You must eat, breathe, and sleep teaching? There is no other explanation as to how deeply you think about “stuff”. Thank you for this incredible resource. Your blog is mind-boggling in such a ‘wonder-full’ way! Thank you!


Juliet Robertson January 18, 2017 at 07:33

Thanks Megan – I think everyone has lots of ideas and makes good application of life experiences to education – I just happen to blog about mine 🙂


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