“You Just Need My Phone To See Them”

Social and emotional learning involves the processes through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. These intrapersonal and interpersonal competencies can be taught and measured, and research shows that students with these skills do better in school and in life (CASEL, 2012; Goleman, 2005; Greenberg et al., 2003; National Research Council, 2009, 2012; Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki, Taylor, & Schellinger, 2011).

Development of these skills happens in a social context and there is extensive research that highlights the importance of active, engaged, meaningful learning through social interaction in which “sustained, shared thinking” is engaged as adults and children work together to explore and learn. I’m embarking here on a journey, over the next several months, to highlight some of the ways I see that adults and children co-engaging with interactive media and results in positive experiences that likely contribute to healthy social and emotional experiences for all parties and build on the interests and appeal of popular media that lives on-screen — unless you happen to visit Disney World or another place similar in which the larger-than-life recreations of on-screen characters scares the daylights out of your 1–5 year old! But, I digress. My first go-round is dealing with the latest rage, Pokemon Go and will be included in a chapter, tentatively titled “Technology-mediated collaboration: Supporting whole child development in the digital age,” that I am coauthoring with some of my fabulous colleagues (Chip Donohue and Katey Highfield). The chapter will be included in an edited volume titled Digital Childhoods (editors Susan Danby, Marilyn Fleer, Christina Davidson, and Maria Hatzigianni) to be published by Springer late in 2017.

Pokemon Go — Integrating augmented reality into real-reality play

Interactive Media: The Pokemon Go (Niantic, 2016) application was used, but children also integrated Pokemon playing cards, pretend mobile phones, paper, markers, plastic, staplers, and glitter glue. Pokemon Go is a augmented reality game that allows the user to find Pokemon (animated pets) through the device’s map/GPS system. The user catches and collects Pokemon, collaborates on a team to win battles and collect more Pokemon while exploring the world around them.

Context: Charlie (8) and Annie (6) went walking with their father and dog. They were capturing Pokemon in the neighborhood while dad explained the goals and objectives of the game. Charlie had played with Pokemon trading cards in school with friends the previous year and he regularly gave Annie his doubles so she could play with him. Over the next several weeks during family walks dad shared his mobile phone with the children and allowed them to catch the Pokemon. Occasionally, the children would ask to look at the Pokedex (index of all the Pokemon collected), or to try to transfer (get rid of duplicate Pokemon) or evolve (trade in points to get a stronger/better Pokemon). The vignette below happened after approximately 10 days of playing with dad on his phone during walks.

Vignette: Charlie and Annie were playing inside on a rainy summer day. Annie had been spending some time in the art area at home and Charlie found her there with a piece of plastic that had been painted over with glitter glue.

Annie: I’m trying to make a Pokeball [Pokeball is a tool used to capture Pokemon in the app].

Charlie: Yeah! That would be SO cool. Then we can hunt the Pokemon in the house. Charlie picks up scissors and makes a cut through the entire sheet of plastic. Great. Now I ruined it and we can’t make the ball.

Annie: It’ll be ok, Charlie. Let’s ask mom. Mom? Can you help us make a Pokeball?

Mom: Sure. Let’s see, Charlie. I don’t think you’ve ruined it. It’s tricky to make a circle from a piece of rectangular plastic. Now that it’s in a strip we can bend it a little bit more and staple it until it’s more round, like a ball. Mom bends, staples. Why don’t you make another slit, Charlie, here on the plastic. Charlie does so. Mom staples.

Charlie: Leave it open at the end so that we can put our Pokemon inside the ball.

Mom: I don’t see any Pokemon. Where are they?

Annie: They’re all over. You just need my phone to see them. Annie points to a play phone in her purse.

Charlie: And we’re going to need the map on the phone too, right Annie? (see Figure 2, below).

Annie: Yeah. We have some work to do. The children ask for another Pokeball and proceed to make materials for their Pokemon game (see Figures 1–4, below). When they are finished making the map, Pokemon, and rewards (more Pokeballs, points, eggs, evolve tokens) the children hide the items throughout the house and then use the map and the play phone to direct their hunting.

Charlie: Annie, look! I just found the egg. You have to help me catch it. Quick. Don’t move or it’ll get broken. You’re going to step…STOP! ANNIE! Annie stops and sees the egg almost below her foot. She stops and puts her hands out like a backboard behind the paper egg. Charlie throws, Annie stops it and inserts the egg inside the ball.

Annie & Charlie: Yah! Boo-yah! All right! Got it! Yes. Let’s go find another. Maybe let’s go to that Pokestop over there next to the pretend church we made (he points to the representation of the Pokestop on his map in Figure 2), I think there’s a Pikachu nearby. You can catch that one, Annie.

Annie: Let me have it. Here. You hold the map now.

Charlie: Hold on. First we have to evolve this Squirtle. He flips over the card he’s collected and reads about its powers, if we evolve the CP will go up [CP are points associated with Pokemon characters]. I know it. It’ll be better for the battle if we go to the gym. He pretends to press some buttons on the play phone. Oh look how happy he is, Annie. Hey, Annie, did you know Zach can hack these to evolve them? He said he’s going to teach me.

Annie: Look Charlie! You earned another Pokeball and some points (she points to cards on the floor she’s just dropped from her pocket as reward mimicking the kinds of rewards found in the app).

Figure 1. Pokeball
Figure 2. Map
Figure 3. Pokemon to Collect
Figure 4. Pokeballs, Rewards, Eggs

So what?

Their collaborative play ended up lasting nearly two hours! Novelty and interest will do that, I suppose, but I couldn’t believe it because I’d not seen too many instances where their play allowed for that level of collaboration and sustained interaction with shared goals. In those two hours I saw so much learning, particularly focused in the social and emotional domains. There was also a whole bunch of evidence that this interactive media was teaching them something about one another, giving them a reason to be kind to one another, and to explore and deepen their understandings about technology as well.

Social learning:

  • Goal driven and collaborative play is fun.
  • Teamwork helps the game move along.
  • Children can identify and solve problems in prosocial ways. (e.g., Pokeball dilemma)

Emotional knowledge:

  • Annie identified that Charlie was upset because he struggled to make the Pokeball. She demonstrated empathy when she said, “It’ll be ok.”
  • Charlie was identifying the Squirtle as feeling happy.
  • Inhibition of aggressive behaviors — Charlie could have pushed or shoved Annie away when the egg appeared or when he wanted to evolve the Squirtle. Charlie used words to effectively communicate, allowing the game to continue on in a positive manner.

Technology learning: The children have demonstrated several bits of learning through the real and virtual experiences with Pokemon Go:

  • Maps represent the world around us. Our phones are tools that we can use to help us find objects in our world (virtual or real).
  • Genre knowledge: Games are interactive objects that use tokens and points as rewards for players following certain kinds of interactions.
  • Coding knowledge: When you “evolve” a Pokemon onscreen you can modify/change how it appears and functions within the app.
  • Hacking is something you do so that you can get the desired outcome from the game with little work. Certain people have this skill. Charlie recognized he does not have it…yet.

It was interesting, too, for me to see that there was little in their play about safety, which is something we’ve since addressed. If anything, writing this has helped me identify some gaps in our own teaching about interactive media and the world we live in!

Originally published at katiepaciga.blogspot.com.