Pokémon and learning – motivation is the key

Andrew Warren, Director of BTSA, explores the similarities between Pokémon and learning.

I am the proud father of two sons. Three years separates them, and like many children, they went through their fair share of crazes. As parents we had to “get into” dinosaurs, Thomas the Tank Engine and Cowboys and Indians, to name but a few.

When they were aged about 11 and 8 respectively, the craze of the moment was Pokémon. To say that they “lived” Pokémon would be a serious understatement! It went deeper than this. They never stopped talking about Pokémon characters and trainers as well as the endless possibilities of evolving to the next stage. It became their sub-world with its own language and rules. My wife and I even down-loaded a parent guide so that we could understand what our boys were talking about!

Bit by bit I began to learn more about Pokémon character cards. The cards contained up to ten pieces of information and at that stage there were about 210 cards. In a relatively short period of time, both boys had learnt all of the information on each of the 210 cards. That is 2,100 pieces of information, much of which I considered was largely useless!

After all, who needs to know that Pikachu can deliver a constant current of 1,000 amps?

No Pokémon “homework”

However, the point of interest for me as a teacher was that they had learnt it on their own, with no adult input and no parent persuasion. I never had to make them do their Pokémon “homework”; I never had to threaten that they could not go out to play until they had learnt another card. They just did it. Why? Because they wanted to. It captivated their interest and their imagination.

This got me thinking … what if the information on these cards had been other information, like historical facts or French vocabulary? With a basic vocabulary of 2,100 French words a child would be well on the way to reasonable fluency. How is it that our children have the capacity to learn a phenomenal amount of information that they want to learn, and yet such an apparently short concentration span with other facts that a school might consider more useful? What would happen if our children were so captivated by the curriculum on offer in school that they went out of their way, using every spare moment, to find out more?

Again, what would happen if schools earnestly set out to light children’s fires of imagination instead of seeing them as vases to be filled with information, ready to be regurgitated at the next set of exams? Now that could be interesting.

I wonder what the school would look like, and what sort of teachers it would need.

Andrew Warren, Director of BTSA
written by Andrew Warren

Director of BTSA and Chair of the Teaching Schools Council 

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