Pokemon for the 21st-Century Learner

In his excellent post, Pokemon 101 for Teachers & Librarians, JP of 8bitlibrary.com answers the question, “What does Pokemon have to do with schools/libraries?”  I’d like to take that a bit further and, based on his points, articulate what it has to do with school libraries.

I believe that gaming is an excellent way for students to develop the skills, dispositions, responsibilities, and self-assessment strategies which will carry them into the future.  We can see exactly how this works for Pokemon by aligning it with AASL’s Standards for the 21st-Century Learner.  [Note: I have only played Pokemon Red and I never actually finished it; I have played the Pokemon Trading Card Game quite a bit.]

First, let’s address a couple of the foundational beliefs.

Reading is a window to the world.  If a student can’t read, she’ll have a hard time playing Pokemon, either the video game or the card game.  In both the video game and the card game, students are required to read descriptions of the individual Pokemon and their powers to determine which Pokemon to use as they battle their opponent.  In the video game, they also have to read as they engage in conversation with characters in the game.

Learning has a social context. In some versions of Pokemon, players can engage in multiplayer battles.  Players must trade Pokemon if they wish to complete their Pokedex, an in-game database which contains information about the individual Pokemon.  There is, to my knowledge, no solitaire version of the Pokemon card game; it must be played opposite an opponent.

Now, let’s move on to specific standards and indicators.

Learners use skills, resources, and & tools to:

1. Inquire, think critically, and gain knowledge.
  • 1.1.2 Use prior and background knowledge as context for new learning. As students play Pokemon, they build their knowledge about the game’s system and rules.  They can transfer this knowledge to new situations within the game and to other games in the series.
2. Draw conclusions, make informed decisions, apply knowledge to knew situations, and create new knowledge.
  • 2.1.4 Use technology and other information tools to analyze and organize information. As mentioned before, players must use the Pokedex as they play the video game to make decisions.  As JP mentions in his post, the community-driven encyclopedia Bulbapedia involves a significant flow of information which students might use to enhance their playing or contribute to from their own knowledge.
  • 2.1.5 Collaborate with others to exchange ideas, develop new understandings, make decisions, and solve problems. The social nature of Pokemon encourages this kind of behavior.
  • 2.1.6 Use the writing process, media and visual literacy, and technology skills to create products that express new understandings.  Bulbapedia provides players with the opportunity to do just this.  It also has a style manual, which will help students learn to write within certain constraints.
3.  Share knowledge and participate ethically and productively as members of our democratic society.
  • 3.1.3 Use writing and speaking skills to communicate new understandings effectively. Once again, the social aspects of Pokemon and opportunity to contribute to a community-driven encyclopedia come into play.
  • 3.1.4 Use technology and other information tools to organize and display knowledge and understanding in ways that others can view, use, and assess. I’m beginning to sound like a scratched CD here, but this is yet another example of a time when communication about the game, rather than the game itself, is relevant.
  • 3.3.5 Contribute to the exchange of ideas within and beyond the learning community. See above.
4. Pursue personal and aesthetic growth.
  • 4.1.1 Read, view, and listen for pleasure and personal growth. I think “Play” should be added to this indicator, but even if it is not, the other three actions are situated within the game.  There is a wealth of relevant non-game material as well, including both fiction and non-fiction books, a cartoon series, and movies.
  • 4.1.7 Use social networks and information tools to gather and share information. Look, another opportunity for social interaction surrounding the game to come into play!  (Forgive the pun, please.)
  • 4.3.1 Participate in the social exchange of ideas, both electronically and in person. See above.
There are many other ways in which Nintendo’s vast Pokemon empire can be used to enhance students’ learning.  How can you take advantage of this opportunity in your school library?

Kimberly Hirsh, PhD @kimberlyhirsh