Learn how the game Pokémon Go teaches us all a great lesson!

Pokémon GO Fest in London - players converge for playtime.

What lessons can we learn from a playful summer?

Here we find ourselves again, at the tail end of another summer vacation just ahead of another school year (or already back in school for some early starters). Before we turn our attention to academics, I’d like to share a current experience and why I believe it’s important to rethink how much we pour into our traditional academic endeavors.  

Pokémon GO Fest in London - large Pikachu posing for photos

Over the last week, I was lucky enough to find myself in London for work. It also happened to coincide with Pokémon GO Fest: London. Admittedly I spent a lot of time catching elusive and shiny ‘mons, but I also deliberately soaked in the experience of the augmented reality game created in the city and surrounding area. While the city experience was busy, messy, and more geared towards solo play, there was an air about the city that was indeed playful. Whether it was the random Pikachu or Eevee hats in a crowd, or a group of strangers raiding tucked against a wall, there was enough of a presence that player or not, you knew something was happening.  

A short underground ride to Brockwell Park pulled all trainers together. Beyond the technical prowess to make it all work, the amount of people gathered on a Sunday afternoon was impressive. There was a sea of Pokéstops all lured up, but what struck me was the diversity of those in attendance. From youngsters just happy to catch anything, entire families, to elderly couples, everyone was playing. The park itself was transformed into various themes but were really targeted at youth and family.  

We know that play is universal and I got to experience that first hand in an unfamiliar setting. What we need to strive for is to include playful experiences in our classrooms. The fun doesn’t have to stop when summer break ends. I encourage us all to investigate and question how much time we’re allotting for playful experiences during the academic year. How might we find more time or match different activities that reinforce learning in a playful manner? It’s fine and dandy to have non-playful experiences to hone a skill or craft, but we must also keep play top of mine.  

This harkens us back to previous conversations around metrics and assessments of success. Here’s a cheat sheet to check against whether you’re experiencing playful learning. Simply ask the following questions: (credit: The LEGO Foundation) 

  • Is what I’m experiencing joyful?
  • Is it meaningful?
  • Actively engaging?
  • Iterative?
  • Socially Engaging? 

If some answers come back “no,” where or what might you do to ensure those conditions are satisfied?  

TLDR;  We’re bound to get ensnared in academics. Take time to reflect to see where engagements fall. We tend to fall out of play as we age, so where in our community can we invite play back to the table?

About the Author:

John Balash was instrumental in Digital Dragon’s launch in 2013 as its first Curriculum Director and is now back in the fold as a consultant on all the latest and greatest in tech education.This is John’s latest contribution to a monthly blog series we’ve launched, Tech News from the Frontier. John is the Director of Educational Engagement at Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center. John has worked on educationally-focused initiatives with clients ranging from D.A.R.P.A. to Disney. Working from both sides of the desk, you can find John in classrooms and conferences around the world exploring new uses for technologies in learning environments.