App Presents Opts: Pokemon Go Tricks Kids into Learning, Exercising

Niantic's hot new app Pokemon Go continues to astound the nation since its midsummer release, leaving teachers to wonder how their classes will be affected by the fervor. Since the game is played on cellphones, many schools plan to keep Pokemon at bay by enforcing strict cellphone policies. Although some schools are planning to ban its play outright, others are preparing to meet educational objectives by using the game. No matter a school's stance, there is no denying that learning opportunities abound with Pokemon Go. Whether you have a class of pro players or novices who have only heard about the game, Pokemon Go can be a teaching tool for a wide range of age groups across multiple disciplines.

Like many apps, Pokemon Go has had its fair share of problems now that a mass of players are using it. While Niantic works to remove bugs from the app to ensure uninterrupted play, one major oversight was remedied shortly after its release. During its infancy of public use, players had the option to sign in with new or existing Google accounts; in turn, Niantic was given the ability to mine data saved by Google from all Pokemon Go players. Before the fix, every move made by a player—that's a physical move in your own real-world environment, mind you—potentially could have been studied by Niantic and used for marketing strategies. What do your students think about the ability of a company to wield such power? Older students in courses covering economics, psychology, sociology, and computer science are ready to engage in discussions regarding the ethics of such practices; plus, it may make them more conscientious consumers.

Other learning opportunities exist in Pokemon Go's physical demands on players. Health and fitness teachers rave about their students' newfound love for the outdoors and exercise since beginning to hunt pocket monsters, or Pokemon as they are called. The game projects Pokemon in real locations. If they are going to be caught, players must travel around the real world using maps linked to Google Maps. While playing the game, students can study their change in heart rate. For those engaged in prolonged play, body mass index variation can be charted over weeks or months. Besides learning these skills, Pokemon Go may inspire young students who are learning to read maps, calculate distances, and determine efficient traveling routes. Likewise, the game's dependency on GPS is a great segue to studying the mechanics of satellites.

Besides alerting players to a Pokemon's location, Pokestops (places containing virtual supplies) and Pokegyms (Pokemon training grounds) are part of the game too. Aside from their virtual purpose, they have other functions in reality since they are real-life locations: businesses, museums, memorials, libraries, and private residences. Help students to understand the significance and history of these places. Likewise, discuss why the map labels some locations and not others. This aspect of the game also presents the opportunity to discuss safety and responsibility with students.

Since the app's release, the news has covered the dark side of Pokemon Go. Players of all ages have neglected common sense for a chance to capture a fictitious monster. Now, when beginning Pokemon Go, the game warns players to avoid dangerous locales where Pokemon appear, such as electrical substations, construction sites, and even the private property known as your neighbor's backyard. Similarly, the game reminds people not to play when engaging in activities that require undivided attention like operating a car or bicycle. While Pokemon are an element of fantasy, the potential consequences it can bring a neglectful user are real and sometimes fatal. Additionally, users—young and old—must be reminded that strangers who play Pokemon Go are still strangers and their quarry might not be a Pokemon, but the other players a Pokemon lures. For that reason, kids should not play alone or wander into unfamiliar areas from Kids need to be taught to resist a Pokemon not only when their safety is at stake but also when their presence may intrude on others.

Most monsters won't be safe from your students though. When a Pokemon is captured, that pocket monster is added to a player's Pokedex. As a player's collection grows, variety among monsters is evident. Different species exist, and the environment often determines the type of Pokemon in an area. Just as in real life, some species are more prevalent than others. If your students are learning skills related to probability, ecosystems, or classification and division, consider using the Pokedex in an introduction to the lesson. Furthermore, the Pokedex opens the door for dialogue regarding the ethics as well as the effects of removing animals from their habitats.

This school year, Pokemon Go may be just the tool needed to excite your students about learning. Many of the game's attributes tie right to the skills students need for the real world. If you prefer the fantasy of augmented reality, however, get creative! What stories do your students' Pokemon have to tell? Kids can write their own narratives about the creatures or they can write journal entries chronicling their own expeditions for Pokemon. Whether Pokemon materialize as distractions or planned learning experiences, be sure to turn Pokemon Go into an opportunity to educate.