Kindly keep your filthy #edtech talons off of Pokemon

Full disclosure:
1). I have been playing Pokemon Go
2). I thoroughly enjoy it, and am convinced it holds important lessons
3). The thought-pieces on “Can you Use Pokemon Go in the classroom>” are driving me towards felony. Fast.

((Apologies to Professor Shapiro, who didn’t write the piece but had to deal with me anyway))

Stop with the sliver-bullet-against-obesity app. If a child doesn’t have to worry about being mugged, jumped, arrested, or falling in a pothole walking around with a $400 smartphone? Sure. But lots of kids do worry about that. They play football or futbol or double-dutch in a vacant concrete lot. They get exercise, talk with friends, and learn about their abilities. Yet the response from teachers too often ranges from “They should be doing their homework!” and “Where are fathers?!”.

Apologies to the newly-minted Sierra Clubbers, but a big reason kids stay indoors isn’t video games – it’s homework. Your homework. Yes, even that sweet “flipped video”.

Next, Pokemon Go is hardly novel. Geocaching enthusiasts have been doing the work for 16 years. Geocaching teaches leadership, STEM, and, dare I say, grit. Geocaching or Google Lit Trips were user-created and open source. Compare that with Pokemon Go, in which pokestops and gyms are assigned by a proprietary algorithm1.

Geocaching is user-created, democratic, and free. Niactic rehashed this idea, locked it in a closed box and added a layer of corporate branding along with an insane amount of data collection. What does it say that ed-tech “thought leaders” have fallen in love with the latter?

The power of the game, like World of Warcraft or Minecraft, is that it allows kids to be social while exploring their world at their pace. Wonderful. There have only been a few dozen books on this exact topic written in the past few years.

The shower of thought-pieces smell not of innovation, but of desperation. It’s grown people flailing to stay relevant, hysterically clawing at the latest trend to showcase their own youth and vibrancy. I feel like I’m watching dozens of Homer Simpsons, skateboarding over a gulch to prove his youth to an audience that never cared about it in the first place.

Look, I get it. Classrooms should be relevant. But there’s a pretty visible boundary between “we’re connecting with your interests” and “I’m hip! I’m with it!”. Why can’t kids keep Neverland? Why can’t teachers leave some space where they can learn without adults probing, adding standards and notes to whatever it is they do to keep moving through adolescence?

Can we use Pokemon, Snapchat, or the next app-crazy in our classrooms? Sure – if we open ownership of what we do to our students. That means students have ownership of the content, the device, and the methods. This, however, is a shared process, meaning no one can farm blog hits or retweets; nobody can hawk their “Make Your Classroom Go with Pokemon!” e-book if the students have done all the work. No gold, or pokecoin, can be spun.

Running the type of classroom we want is frustrating work. It’s easy to latch onto a fad or app. So, yes, we could use Pokemon Go in the classroom. But, if the kids have any say in it, we should pass.


  1. and, I assume, a to-be-established six-figure deal 

14 things I learned this year

1. “Letting great people do their own thing” is a good leadership strategy. It also has its limits.

2. A good sample can be more important than a good rubric.

3. No matter how passionately you believe you are right, doing “your own thing” in the classroom has a transaction cost, where kids have to figure out what you are doing instead of what they are doing. Renegading feels good, but is not best practices.

4. A school without vision and values is a school in conflict.

5. I’m not sure if social media exacerbates or creates madness, but the levels of depravity seemingly normal people are capable of is truly and terribly magnificent.

6. If you really want kids to remember something, there are worst strategies than just repeating it every single day.

7. I’m never scaffolding enough for freshmen. They devour scaffolding.

8. Poetry slams are really fun, until they go too long. Then they are no fun at all.

9. Convincing kids to revise a good piece is 10 time harder than convincing them to write a good piece.

10. Arguing on Twitter is the proverbial fighting monsters. You inevitably become one.

11. It’s the year 2030, and there’s still that one kid who insists on emailing a Microsoft Word document instead of Google Docs.

12. Testing has become the status quo. Kids expect to stress over mandated testing, and expect you to be part of that stress.

13. In 10 years, Lil’ Wayne’s first verse in “Mr. Carter” will still be an excellent way to teach poetic devices.

14. Even the best schools, the schools you wish you could work in, have their terrible days. To school is to struggle.