A colleague sent me a message that the app had gone live, with a screenshot he had taken of his ﬁ rst Pokémon catch.
I couldn’t quite understand what I was looking at when he sent me through his screenshot, displaying what looked like a photograph of his front yard behind an animated, orange Charmander sitting there, waiting to have a Pokéball thrown in its general direction.
Within minutes, a couple of us at the conference had downloaded the app.
Then, a dozen more. I’ll always remember that evening, as we ran around a sleepy little beach community in Queensland, looking everywhere for Pokémon and joyously teaching each other how to play the game.
The energy in the air was as electric as Pikachu’s tail, and we all discussed that night and the following days how it feels when a new technological event like this happens, how it makes you feel a renewed sense of inspiration and passion for experiences, and how as educators we feed on experiences like this and seek to capture and replicate this energy in ways that allow us to bring it into the classroom for our students.
For my part, I quickly went home after the conference and sat down to produce an iTunes U education course and blog post on ways I could see Pokémon Go being used in the classroom.
I called it, ‘Explore Everything with Pokémon Go’, and I shared it out as a school holiday resource for families to use and play alongside their children with as a way of extending the learning opportunities that present themselves with Pokémon Go.
When I designed these learning experiences, I adhered to a framework that I ﬁ nd helps me to consider inclusive differentiation of educational focus – Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Howard Gardner’s book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences kick-started a distinct way for educators to consider the varied modes in which a student might exhibit a particularly personal style of intelligence.
Rather than simply being assessed on general linguistic or logical cognitive skills, it proposed a way of seeing a broader spectrum of processing strengths that any given student may possess, in areas such as music, bodily-kinaesthetic, interpersonal, and other varied domains of intelligence.
Gardner’s premise of Multiple Intelligences has come under some criticism since the initial publication of his book, with critics pointing to the supposed lack of empirical evidence that different forms of intelligence actually exist, and, particularly within a schooling context, whether or not there is any merit to the idea that different students might be able to be characterised as actually possessing different styles of learning.
Rather than delve too deeply into these arguments here, for me the consideration that drives what I believe is a worthwhile implementation of the Multiple Intelligence concept is the fundamental recognition that students are all individuals and hence require us as educators to work with them as individuals.
This means designing learning experiences that respond to the learning needs we can evaluate in our students, for which the Theory of Multiple Intelligences provides me with a strong launchpad of inspiration in the same way that the National Curriculum tries to provide many different ﬁ elds of educational engagement for students to become conﬁdent with.
Rather than just creating learning experiences that use the written word, for example, the implication then is to create learning experiences that use many different aspects of intelligence, such as engaging with physical movement activities, using an exploration of nature, using interpersonal reﬂ ection, using visual art, all as a way of processing and rendering learning.
In this way, we are using the Theory of Multiple Intelligences as a means of engaging the principles of Universal Design for Learning – we are seeking multiple ways of representing learning tasks, multiple ways of engaging students in these tasks, and providing multiple ways for students to represent their learning from these tasks, all with a view that we are teaching to the way that each of our unique students best learn.
The decision to use Pokémon Go as the focus of an educational resource may not be a natural decision for some educators, but for the staff at our school catering to children on the autism spectrum this is our most natural mode of creation.
We consider and use the special interests of our students as the central tenet for a maker of good teaching. Pokémon has always been a perennial favourite in our school, and we recognise that for the great majority of students we work with there is an inherent need to utilise these special interests to engage them in the school program.
Using special interests such as Pokémon Go in the classroom provides our students with a way of connecting the time they want to spend on their own personal fascinations with the expectations of the classroom.
It also, in many ways, allows our students to whittle down the world to a more manageable form – when they understand something so completely like Pokémon, or Minecraft, or Doctor Who, or any number of common special interests, our students feel more conﬁdent in taking on the challenges of the classroom if they can associate these challenges with something they are very familiar with.
With this in mind, we respect and highly value the special interests of our students and we strive to use these interests in order to help with our classroom instructions, with the adaptation of curriculum content, and towards functional goal outcomes such as addressing social skills and communication needs.
I by no means believe this is an educational approach relegated only to students on the autism spectrum, as this utilisation of special interests is to my mind just another way of individualising the learning experience for our students with respect to the individual needs they present with.
Pokémon Go by its very nature lends itself so well to a Multiple Intelligence framework of engagement – you are physically moving around while playing the game (Bodily-Kinaesthetic), you are using mapping skills (Visual-Spatial), you are calculating equations to factor when you can commence an evolution (Logical-Mathematical), you are engaging with different environments around you (Naturalistic).
And, when you join a friend and go hunting Pokémon together, you are employing expressive and receptive social skills (Interpersonal), and when you miss catching a Pokémon that you were really eager to catch, you self-regulate your emotions in order to settle and return to the hunt (Intrapersonal).
With these connections in mind, it is easy to see how you could create a well developed learning program that addresses all of these areas in relation to the utility and design of Pokémon Go, that simultaneously addresses academic outcomes in the classroom as well as social-emotional outcomes for students.
Take the Intrapersonal domain, for example – we have built learning experiences in which students need to consider the general emotional states of different Pokémon and assign each of them a particular emotional category in order to help students to recognise their own different emotional states.
For example, Pikachu presents as generally happy, settled, and ready to adventure Pokémon, whilst Charizard presents as an angry, volatile, out-of-control character. Learning activities such as this take a goal that students might have around emotional regulation needs, and provides a language and a conceptual framework around Pokémon that is very familiar to children and hence can allow them to work towards the goal in a much more efﬁ cient and effective manner.
This, then, is the real heart of what we want to achieve by using special interests such as Pokémon in the classroom and by guiding our approach within a Multiple Intelligences framework – we want to create learning experiences that cater to the individual fascinations, skills and goals of our students in such a way that we are building an educational space that is safe and respectful and paves a path towards functional success.
There are tremendous examples being shared all the time of this methodology – take the new documentary recently released in Australia, Life, Animated, about a young man on the autism spectrum who learns language, social and processing skills through his interest in Disney movies.
If we ask our students to leave these interests at the door of the classroom without welcoming them in, we are reducing the potentials of so many of our students.
If we genuinely want to reach all learners, we need to recognise ways to authentically catch the interest and Multiple Intelligence needs of our students – and like the old Pokémon saying goes, that means you’ve gotta catch ‘em all.