Minecraft, Pokemon Go and Language Learning
My real fascination with gaming and the possibilities for learning came last summer when both my sons discovered Pokemon Go. Every summer we go back home to the Netherlands and living internationally my boys don’t get to practice Dutch too often. Pokemon Go changed all that. All summer, they were out and about, talking to people, asking them where the next pitstop was and where they could get ….
Back in Phnom Penh for the new school year, I talked to the mother of a Japanese student. With some apprehension, she asked me what I thought of Pokemon Go. I misread her apprehension and I was expecting having to defend it to her, convincing her of its potential worth for education. Instead, the look on her face when I said I loved it, was one of recognition, almost relief. Because, yes, she loved it, too! All summer they had been in the US. And her boys also were out and about, talking English to other Pokemon Goers.
A Finnish boy, Eemil, joined our grade 4 class. He didn’t speak a word of English.. but when the topic of Pokemon Go came up I watched him get very excited. He pushed himself to say ‘I play Pokemon go all summer’. Do you know…? Can you play here…? Where can we?
I tried my best to find more ways to engage this boy. I didn’t have to look far. Minecraft. He brought a book to school about Minecraft in Finnish. We looked at it, discussed it. I suggested we could speak to Mr. Matt, our technology coach, perhaps we could play some Minecraft and use this wonderful book.
The next lesson, Eemil brought with him a whole set of instructions IN ENGLISH, that he had worked on at home with his mother. Now we really had to get ourselves to that lab, so that the other students in the EAL class could follow his instructions and build a house in Minecraft.
What more evidence do I need that gaming, when used in a targeted way, is a potential ‘game-changer’ for education? As an EAL teacher, I want my students to practise the language. We learn a language by using it. What gets students communicating? When they have a need to communicate. When you give them a compelling reason to communicate.