PokéMath – Gotta Solve ‘Em All!

Ash and Pikachu celebrate 20 years together...Introducing… PokéMath! “Gotta solve ’em all!”

I decided I wanted to do something thematic in my classroom this year, and was originally considering a Minecraft theme, because I know that there are a lot of Minecraft-fanatics in my incoming class of students… (and it lends itself well to things we study: geology, various math concepts including area and volume, etc)

HOWEVER, with this sudden Pokémon Go tidal wave, I changed my mind. I just know that many students are going to show up to school Pokémon-obsessed, so why not ride the wave of enthusiasm instead of fighting it?? [To be honest, I had thought of doing PokéMath for several years now, but there had never been such a fervent Pokémon interest in recent years, until now]

How does PokéMath work?

In essence, PokéMath is just a thematic rebranding of a sticker/badge rewards system. In this case, students are awarded badges (pokémon) for each specific skill they master in Khan Academy! The pokémon are based on the wildly popular new Pokémon Go game (151 slated pokémon at this date, though not all are readily available), and the goal — of course — is to “catch ’em all!”

Students “catch” a pokémon by reaching mastery level of a specific skill in Khan Academy, as listed in the table below. At the end of each week (ie. usually on Friday), I will collect the student math folders (a plastic pocket folder with metal tabs for holding notebook paper.) After school (Friday evening or over the weekend), I will check the Student Progress and/or Skills Progress section of the Khan Academy coach dashboard to see which skills have been mastered. For any skills that have been mastered, I will locate the corresponding monster sticker on that student’s sheet, and will affix it to their folder!

In this way, students can maintain a “pokédex” of their collection as trophies to be proud of, to show off to their friends, and to remind them (every time they take it out for homework) that they probably still have many more to catch!

Materials & resources

Setup

As the teacher, I have set up my PokéMath table of creatures based on the following procedure:

  1. Set up a class in Khan Academy for your grade level (mine is 6th grade, so I assigned “6th Grade Mission”)
  2. In the Khan Academy Coach Report, go to “Skill Progress” to see the required strands/skills. Copy & paste the name of each individual skill within the strands. For each skill, right-click (CTRL-click on Mac) on the “Open skill in a new tab” link and and choose to copy the address (URL).I then pasted one skill per pokémon, based on the following algorithm:
    1. I put related concepts together in a pokémon “family”
    2. The more evolved the pokémon, the more challenging/advanced the concept I assigned (the last level is often “word problems”)
    3. I generally structured it in chronological order synced to our actual math curriculum (Pearson Digits — it is a different order/sequence than Khan Academy, but I use Khan in addition to it)… the more “rare” the pokémon, the later in the year we will learn the concept.

Execution

Students will obtain pokémon by mastering the requisite skill. The dashboard for Coaches in Khan Academy shows the level of mastery for each subject. There are various levels:

  • Struggling
  • Needs Practice
  • Practiced
  • Level One
  • Level Two
  • Mastered

When students go directly to the chosen skill and “pass” the practice activities for the first time, it counts as “Practiced”… in order to master the skills, they must then be passed in the Khan Academy mastery challenges.

Evolution & Spending Points

Pokémon are arranged into “families” — ie. there is a “base” pokémon, as well as later “evolutions” or iterations based upon that original base. To obtain the evolutions, students must start by obtaining the base by mastering the required task. However, after obtaining the base pokémon, there are two routes to evolution:

  1. Master the required skill listed for that evolution
  2. or Spend a certain amount of points (listed in table) to achieve the evolution

In this way, students have an alternate route to obtain evolved pokémon if some of the more advanced math tasks prove too challenging.

Where do these points come from?

That is up to you. In my class, they will be ClassDojo points.  Every day, when students come to class, they will have multiple opportunities to earn points simply by paying attention, putting in effort, being well-behaved, and exhibiting Growth Mindset. If they do these things, they earn ClassDojo points, which can be spent (in lieu of mastering the math skill) to evolve a pokémon!

Notes on Evolution:

  • Evolutions cannot be skipped. To get to the third level (2nd evolution), you must evolve twice. (ie. master two skills or spend the points for the first evolution, plus the points for the second evolution. Or a combination of the above.)
  • When students obtain an evolution, they still get to keep the lower-level pokémon of the same family. They simply add the new one in addition to the others.

LOGISTICS

Not a lot is required to do this!

  1. Set up a table — like the one below — and assign within it the skills you want mastered for each pokémon.
  2. Determine how/when you will check mastery. I will be checking every Monday, and it will be student responsibility to let me know they have obtained one (or more) for the week, which they will do by lining up at my desk and waiting for me to confirm in the Khan Academy records. To help facilitate this, the full PokéMath Pokédex (the table below) will be distributed to all students in Google Classroom, with an additional column labeled “Caught?” Students can monitor their progress in Khan Academy and, as soon as they reach mastery for a skill, should place an “X” in the caught column.
  3. Hand the student a sticker of the pokémon! I will be custom-printing them (templates in Google Drive folder linked below) on 3/4″ round labels, which will then be stuck onto the student math folder as a badge of progress.

More fun stuff: thematic groupings

I decided I wanted to go all out with the Pokémon theme this year (just for fun — I’m even going to show up to school dressed as Ash Ketchum!), so I thought about ways I could incorporate that into the classroom (other than thematic decorations and features, such as Pokémon wall decals and miniature Pokémon figurines.)

I use friendly competition a lot in my classes (middle schoolers love it!); in addition to the individual aspects, students are assigned to small groups (ideally 4 students), both for competition purposes but also for group-based activities. In the past, these groups would often have very uninspired names (A, B, C, D, etc), but sometimes I would make it a little more interesting by bringing an education theme into it. For example, when we did our Ancient Greek unit, each team became a city-state, and we had “Olympic games” competitions during PE (sometimes actual games, like teaching them how to throw a discus; sometimes more silly stuff, like “chariot races” aka wheel-barrow race.)

This year, the small groups could be organized as Gyms! To keep it simple and easy to remember, I will just use the old-school Kanto gyms from the original Pokémon games: Pewter City, Cerulean City, Vermilion City, Celadon City, Fuchsia City, Saffron City, Cinnabar Island, and Viridian City (easy to do, they are basically just colors. You can click here to find the colors.)

Sometimes I need to separate the class into larger groups… for example, when we do Jeopardy-style quiz-show review games. In the past, I would simply split the class in half down the middle… but perhaps this year I should split them into three Teams: Valor, Mystic, and Instinct?  (the numbers this year mean I will have 6 Gyms per class, so it would amount to 2 gyms for each Team)

In the past, I would just tally points on the whiteboard (this year I was even considering buying some printable magnetic sheets to slap up on the magnetic whiteboard, showing the team colors or insignia), but with 3 different classes coming to me for math this year, that could be a challenge.

Instead, I will probably just log all group points in ClassDojo (they have had a Groups feature for about a year now)… only one set of groups can be created, but they can be named such that the larger Team is indicated, such as “Pewter (Valor)”

Note: This still poses challenges for one-on-one competitions. Those will either have to be round-robin turn-taking events, where one team spectates while the other two compete… or the Teams will have to be “broken” into two equal number of groups.

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