Inspired by Pokemon Go, students welcome mutants into their school and learn a lot about observation, collaboration and social learning reports Natalie Catlett.
“Learning is a story of searching and discovery, of great excitement and intimacy. Discovery – whether about the world or about myself – is one of the most powerful and moving experiences there is.” Yaacov Hecht
During winter vacation the Pokemon Go fever exploded here in Brazil. Students came back from vacation talking ceaselessly about Pokemon Go, PokeStops and all the unexpected places they had discovered Pokemons. “You won’t believe where I found a Pokémon yesterday! I was at the hospital and captured one near a statue of Albert Einstein” was a typical comment by one of the students.
As their art teacher, I felt completely out of the loop. What is Pokemon Go? All I knew up until that moment was that Pokemon Go was an augmented reality game for mobiles, but once I heard my student mention the statue of Albert Einstein, I had a feeling there were learning opportunities. After all, it led him to an iconic landmark.
As my students explained a little more to me, I saw the way in. Pokemon Go could connect to several concepts we explore in art: appropriation art, occupation of physical space and the nature of ephemeral art. “Do you think we could create something here at school inspired by Pokemon Go?” I asked.
One student was quick to answer, “Yes! We can spread drawings of Pokemon characters throughout the school.” After time to think, discuss and share their own ideas, the students agreed that Mutants would be an interesting theme for their drawings. Within minutes, students were planning their mutants and drawing them. Within days students came together and established common agreements for the initiative they had just created:
Agreements for Mutant Go
1. It can only be placed in common spaces, classrooms and offices are not allowed.
2. It has to be in a safe place for teachers and students to seek out.
3. They cannot be peeled off once discovered.
They knew that in initiating Mutant Go they had a collective responsibility. Little did they know that this initiative would motivate and engage our entire elementary school.
It wasn’t long before all classes became involved in the Mutant Go initiative. Mutants began to appear throughout our entire school. The excitement of seeing their everyday environment change in subtle ways thrilled them. Even when they weren’t seeking a Mutant, a Mutant would surprise them in an unexpected place. Our school became a gallery without walls. Students began to crawl under tables and benches seeking Mutants; they wandered into flower beds and peeked into manholes. Students were persistent risk-takers. Ordinary everyday objects suddenly became a source of interest.
Students across grade levels were interacting with each other, either sharing their finds or challenging others to find their mutant. They displayed empathy towards each other recognizing the uniqueness of each artist’s work: “It doesn’t matter where it’s been placed, it’s an artwork and it deserves to be respected.”
I photographed some of the Mutants and created a “Wanted” sign. The Wanted sign challenged students to find the Mutant. Some photographs revealed the surface on which the Mutant was placed; others the Mutant only. Groups gathered around the signs.They looked at the images and observed the shapes, textures, the position of the objects and surroundings. Every morning, students gathered around the Wanted sign ready for the new challenge of the day!
Students began writing descriptions of where to find their Mutants. This introduced a new challenge: instead of seeking a Mutant with a clear image of what it looked like, students now had to interpret the text. Students had to work together and solve the problem. Together they would discuss their hypotheses and eliminate possibilities, before springing into action. We tend to think of art as something static and usually when viewing an artwork we are accustomed to having our “feet always on the ground”, one student stated. “I wish museums were more like Mutant Go and we had to seek things. It would definitely be more fun.”
Students across grade levels were asked the “golden question”, how is Mutant Go different from Pokemon Go? They responded:
1. It does not involve technology, “Our hands are free.”
2. We are the authors of this initiative, therefore it only exists at Beacon.
3. It´s unique because each drawing is its very own and we will not see repeated images.
4. We don’t have to “capture” our Mutants, we only have to find them.
Exploring these differences was crucial; it allowed them to examine and interpret their entire experience. In a society where children are constantly bombarded with images and a screen is often their focus and a barrier between them, having their hands free was celebrated. Mutant Go did not have levels, it had challenges. It didn’t have rewards; there was no capture, they only had to seek, find and admire.
An ordinary conversation about Pokemon Go transformed itself into this extraordinary experience. When true inquiry takes place it spills outside the classroom and occupies all of its surroundings. There are no boundaries. It’s dynamic, it’s organic and it should not be silenced.
Natalie Catlett is a PYP Art Teacher at Beacon School. Beacon School is an IB-World School, located in São Paulo-Brazil, offering an international education with an emphasis on Brazilian identity. firstname.lastname@example.org
For more about Beacon School see: http://www.beaconschool.com.br/eng/