Kodu Game Lab – using gaming to interest students in programming

I know it’s half-term, and therefore most teachers aren’t in school. But then, there’s more time to play with new stuff in half-term! So I thought I’d blog it anyway.

There aren’t enough students studying computing subjects – this PC Pro article’s chart shows just how bad it is expect to get – and at least part of that is that their is a disjoint between computing and real-world ICT. However, there’s also the issue that it has become increasingly difficult to engage students in programming, especially when they are younger – leading them to want to study computing at A-level or for a degree.

imageThis explains just two of the reasons that we’ve been working on a visual programming language for a few years now. In January, we announced Kodu for PC, which is designed specifically for children to be able to create games. And made it available as a free Technical Preview. It’s described as “an end-to-end creative environment for designing, building, and playing your own new games”. Originally, Kodu was just for the Xbox, but now there’s a PC version, you can run on it on a standard classroom PC. And then your students can share it on your school network, so that other students can play (and learn).

As the Kodu team describe it, it’s all about using programming as a creative medium:

The core of the Kodu project is the programming user interface. The language is simple and entirely icon-based. Programs are composed of pages, which are broken down into rules, which are further divided into conditions and actions. Conditions are evaluated simultaneously.

The Kodu language is designed specifically for game development and provides specialised primitives derived from gaming scenarios. Programs are expressed in physical terms, using concepts like vision, hearing, and time to control character behavior. While not as general-purpose as classical programming languages, Kodu can express advanced game design concepts in a simple, direct, and intuitive manner.

It’s already being tried out by some schools in the UK, and there are a number of projects in education worldwide:

  • In the USA, in Detroit, the Explorer Elementary school has been running the Explorer Kodu Club.  Children are showing up early for school to work on their Kodu projects while learning about programming, design, and narrative development. 


imageYou can find out all about Kodu, and download the free Technical Preview version for PC at the Kodu Game Lab

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