Recently I discovered a little game called Pokemon. It was sweeping through our school like a wildfire, consuming students at recess. The students were trading, some crying because they were making bad trades, ”bad trades" I said to myself, "what is happening, what is this stupid game?" We teachers were feeling the effects of these cards and we knew we had to do something about it. Students were not paying attention during transitions and recess was no longer a time for activity but sitting and trading cards. This game was infringing on our perfect little school. It was first seen as a problem until it was proposed as something we could use to our benefit instead. With a different mentality we decided to embrace the game instead of ban it completely.
I got online to see what Pokemon was all about. The game, much to my surprise, was filled with complexity, math, strategy, improvisational skills, emotional intelligence development, and multilayered decision making. Although the characters on the cards are somewhat ridiculous, they were by no means representing the level of thought that this game could envelop.
After only 45 minutes of going through the online Pokemon training tutorials I found that I could talk with an insider language that grabbed the students attention like you wouldn't believe. The meager 45 minutes was paying off in tremendous ways. Instead of being on the outside of what the students were into, I was using their language and giving them advice on how to make good trades in ways they had never considered. I also learned that many of them didn't even know how to play the game! In only 10 minutes the students started to come up to me and say things like "I didn't know you knew so much about Pokemon!" and then they would open up there three ring binder with all their cards and begin to walk me through their cards that they loved. I don’t love Pokemon, but knowing Pokemon was able to give to me a way to connect and be relevant to their world.
With this taste of insider experience I needed more. I went online and finished the tutorials later that day. It took me about 2 hours to move through the whole thing. This once abstract and distant card game became something I could understand. I felt as though I had learned a new language. That night I figured how I could get some actual game experience in case a student ever wanted to play against me (I would have to win in order to show myself competent and respectable in their eyes), so I did what any sane man would do with his Friday night, I created a login name and spent the next 3-4 hours playing against Pokemon players on the web. I had found a Pokemon app that I could play in order to practice. I was given a deck (60 cards) and then I started to build my own deck. I have learned since, that the entire game is won by a great deck and smart gameplay.
I discovered that I could infiltrate their Pokemon obsession and teach. So after falling asleep around 3am after playing 25-30 full games I was ready to head back to school on Monday. Of course that's not before I went to a local book store and found a used deck of Pokemon cards for $6.95! So cheap and such a small investment to now be on the inside of the Pokemon trade at our school. I am equipped to teach them about true value, which is nearly always subjective rather than objective. This is an incredible catalyst for teaching students about the deception of desiring cards that their deck really doesn't support. The students are wrongfully obsessed with the Pokemon creatures and not the support system which makes or breaks them. The Pokemon are not powerful without several other factors that are needed to be understood in the midst of gameplay. But they won't know that if they don't have something to teach them how to do it.
This morning I dove right in to their trading world by talking about the need to develop their evolution chains and have the right amount of trainer and item cards in order to bench and energize their basic Pokemon during gameplay (that’s insider language!). Within 5 minutes of recess I was a teacher again, instead of an outsider who was an opposing force. The kids came to me asking for advice on how to set up their cards.
So what am I saying? Do we all need to go through the Pokemon training and buy a deck in order to play the game with the kids? No, but I would suggest that it's a great way to connect with them and find yourself not being on the outside. As a teacher, it’s my duty to be on the inside, and so Pokemon becomes not a nuisance but a tool for education.