Last week Microsoft's UK HQ in Reading was host to the national finals of Kodu Kup, inviting teams from 10 schools to compete for the prizes. More than just an exercise in programming, the Kodu Kup challenges students to put their minds to a number of creative and business-themed disciplines, as part of a wider project based learning experience.
The 10 schools selected for the finals were:
Barry Island Primary School – Barry
Dunoon PS Primary – Argyll & Bute
Exmoor Coast Federation – Somerset
Bishop Luffa High School – Chichester
Highgate School – London
Lympne Primary School – Kent
Barlows Primary School – Liverpool
Afon Taf School – Merthyr Tydfil
Valley Gardens Middle School - Tyne and Wear
Highgate Wood School – London
Giving children context to their learning is key and the Kodu Kup does just that, by not only asking them to create a game using their programming skills, but to engage their minds to think about how they would go about promoting and marketing their games, and in doing so develop a number of highly valuable 21st century skills. The variety and standard of the games and ideas we saw last Monday was a testament to what can be achieved when children's imaginations are unleashed in a fertile creative environment, by teachers who can nurture and facilitate the initial sparks into tangible products.
Integral to any successful entry was a balance among the students that make up a team, and an ability to work together and embrace the different strengths of each member - a skill that is hugely useful in any area of employment. Some children will have a natural affinity for certain skills and disciplines, while others will excel in other areas. A combination of creative ideas and coding ability, blended with someone who can present these ideas and talk to potential investors or customers will stand any budding apps team in good stead, and these attributes were present in abundance last week.
-- Kodu Kup 2015 UK Winners --
All finalists had a stall from which to demo their games and any other supporting marketing materials they had produced, with plenty of time for to judges to be wowed and impressed by each of the teams. After two ‘pitching sessions’ and a break for lunch, it was time for the announcement of the winners, with the following awards being presented:
After the winners were announced, news spread very quickly, with Chris Forrest - Managing Director of Microsoft Scotland - showing his delight at the success the students from Dunoon Primary:
“Huge congratulations to the KoduKup 2015 UK Champions, Dunoon Primary’s ‘Pro Gamers’ - it’s truly wonderful to see these young people be inspired by technology. It’s all the more impressive when you know that the children and their families have put off their summer holidays to compete! I’d also like to recognise the talent and commitment of all the entrants who have worked so hard, as well as the schools and teachers who have backed them.”
We were also paid a visit by a young man with a passion for Minecraft who goes by the name 'Solly The Kid' on YouTube. As well as giving a Minecraft demonstration to the finalists on the big screen, he also made his own video of the day, which is absolutely fantastic!
To see the impact of the Kodu Kup in other areas of the curriculum, we need look no further than the students themselves. Speaking to one of the team from Highgate Woods School who created 'Star Strike', she explained how developing worlds in Kodu has helped her to improve the work she does in Geography lessons, through gaining a better understanding on terrains, and the different materials and features that make up landscapes. 'Game Hopper', the product of the imaginations of three pupils at Barry Island Primary School, is a story led game, which its creators say helped them hugely with their creative writing in English classes.
The girls at Highgate School behind the anti-bullying game 'Kodu Kop' drew upon their musical abilities to write and record the soundtrack from their game, which they also performed on the day - a very talented bunch indeed!
-- Beyond Coding --
The enthusiasm of the children was plainly evident from talking to them on the day, but when speaking to the teachers, they were all effusive in their praise of the attitudes of their students in the way they went about the challenge. Many were taken aback by the way that their students had willingly got on with the work not only in the classroom, but in their own time as well.
A significant part of the challenge within education is getting young children to engage and identify with the subject matter and principles, especially if they can't see any real life context to what might otherwise appear to be arbitrary exercises, or if they don't naturally prosper in a given subject. By bringing together a wide range of skills and disciplines under the overarching theme of a singular project, students who might struggle in one particular area are able to excel in others, and through working as a team are more easily able to enjoy the project as a whole, and associate a feeling of success and achievement with areas of study they might have otherwise drawn a negative experience from. This also benefits the peer environment, as the students learn to embrace the collective skills of the group and recognise that their fellow students are of value to them, even if they have different interests and abilities.
One conversation with the Barry Island Primary students was particularly heartening and that was when one of them, without prompting, explained that even if they didn’t win awards that day, they were still very pleased with what they had achieved so far, and would be continuing to work on their game and further coding endeavours. This mindset of recognising achievements and accomplishments is so crucial for building confidence in abilities in young people. Whether not an app is 1st or 21st in a chart or store is not the be all and end all of success, and if we are to continue to produce creative, critical, and prosperous children to become the leaders of tomorrow, we need to ensure that they do not see coming second as a reason to stop trying.
-- What’s Next? --
This is the last time the Kodu Kup will be run in its current format, but rest assured we will be offering some form of project based learning competition next year with the aim of getting children into coding at its heart. Once again, congratulations to all of our winners, and thank you to all entrants - it was a hugely enjoyable day for all of us here at Microsoft, and fantastic to see the talents of the next generation!