1. Kodu

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My first review is of Kodu. In a nutshell, Kodu is described on Microsoft Research’s website as …a new visual programming language made specifically for creating games.” The concept of creating a game that someone can actually come and play may seem a little daunting if you are unfamiliar with coding/programming concepts. In actual fact, it is a lot easier than some may think.

Kodu is a simplified programming model that incorporates “when” and “do” commands. It introduces the concept of algorithms as children will begin to see how clicking one thing will cause another to happen. I feel it would be important though when using Kodu with children to discuss exactly what they are doing and why things are happening. Children may feel like they are “just playing games” and although they will still be learning about coding and programming I feel further discussions will consolidate this. Kodu can be used on an Xbox so there is potential for some transferable learning from the classroom as some children will likely have this console at home. It also works on PC so is easily accessible even for schools with limited resources.

I immediately liked Kodu. I’m quite a visual person when it comes to first impressions of websites. (I guess you could say I am technologically shallow…) The interface is colourful and has an element of fun. Compared to other coding programmes I have used it just looks more interesting to use. The 3D element adds literally an extra dimension to the experience.

My personal approach to learning something new is to just jump straight in without really stopping and thinking…probably not the best practice, I know. However, for those of you who have a different learning style, there are plenty of tutorial videos out there to help you get acquainted with Kodu. YouTube has several, some better than others, but they range from general overviews, to how to do something very specific. Definitely worth checking out…could save a lot of time!

It seems it’s not only me who likes Kodu. After sending out a Twitter post asking for opinions and experiences others have had of Kodu I had lots of replies in favour. Digital Maverick ‏(@digitalmaverick) said “Kodu is great – esp. when using XBOX controllers.”  I agree, as introducing a programme like this using a medium that children are probably already familiar with can aid the learning process as they will feel they already “get it”.

I had a really insightful response from Dr Matthew Pearson (@mattpearson) who creates training videos for schools on Kodu. He says: “I have made a series of training videos for teachers to use Kodu in the classroom, these are for the Steljes training portal (steljestraining.com). This work meant I had to dig deep into what Kodu can do, and also assess it suitability in meeting the 2014 National Curriculum for Computing, particularly for KS 2 and 3 students.

Kodu works well because it provides an immediate way to create hiqh quality landscapes, so introduces students to the principles around 3d world building.  But Minecraft does that too of course, where Kodu is different is in the ability to program events, objects and actions in the world, and although the Kodu interface may look superficial on first look, lacking perhaps the conceptual depth offered by competitors coding environments such as Scratch, it actually has depth and sophistication and users need to show understanding of algorithms and computing languages to create their own games. So Kodu should appeal to KS2 and 3 kids, it will give them instant gratification as you can start building worlds very quickly, and then they can be stretched and taught real programming as they populate their worlds with objects endowed with gaming behaviours. The fact the environment also works on X Box is a bonus. Most schools will be using the PC version, but pupils with X boxes at home may be tempted to download Kodu and continue their programming skills at home.”

 Kodu also proved popular amongst my University group. Becca (@becca_smallshaw) says “I like Kodu because the programming uses simple selection processes and it is clear exactly what you are doing. The choices of objects and characters you can add to the game are child friendly and fun.”

We all enjoyed using the software and everyone had a result at the end, having successfully programmed. I know we all felt a sense of achievement. In a classroom environment with children there is almost instant gratification on seeing an end product after all their hard work.

I am still getting to grips with Kodu myself and spending time learning the “ins” and “outs”. I am yet to discover any significant cons other than I don’t think it is a programme that you could just leave children to get on with. When the Computing curriculum is introduced in 2014 I think it could be a great tool, however maybe not one used to introduce children to these concepts. I feel Kodu is more suited to KS2 and up, once they have learnt basics from other programmes.

 What are your thoughts on Kodu? If anyone has any other comments/opinions/advice surrounding this programme, I’d love to hear from you! 

Thanks to everyone who contributed to this blog post, I really appreciate it!

 

 

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