Kodu Kabooom

With Prof Sugata Mitra’s keynote comment and often tweet quote gently ringing in my ears…

a teacher that can be replaced by a machine should be.

…I took a slightly less traditional approach to investigating the curriculum value / potential of Microsoft’s Kodu game design platform. Here is how we are making the judgement…..

Take fifteen digitally enthused students (Digital Leaders) from Year 8 to Year 10 and offer up Kodu, make eight X-box style PC controllers available (I will explain why only eight), no instructions but an aspiration….

Create a game where you to collect apples to gain points to reach a target point score with ‘something’ getting in your way. Be inventive.

then step back and be enchanted.

I am believe in ‘challenging and inspiring’ learners, it my educational philosophy and boy, did Kodu challenge them. In just one hour  (and an additional twenty-five minutes) I witness a multitude of challenges; conceptual,  spatial, logic, mathematical, creative, narrative, a bucketful of problem solving resolved through exploration, trial and error, collaboration, teamwork and peer teaching. The process of developing a Kodu game, so attractive and open ended, was inherently inspiring, I learn so much from just watching.

Observations

  1. Some students simply got stuck in, learning through exploration and error. Quite a few highlighted their frustration that YouTube was blocked,  with one or two going in search of instructions within Kodu, with some mixing and matching their approach. I don’t recall anyone watching the Kodu official videoes??
  2. Only a few of the learners started programming with controllers, most opting for the mouse and keyboard. However, the student that arguably made the most progress was a ‘controller king,’ his eyes never left the screen as he manoeuvred the Kodu platform with impressive speed and confidence via the toggles and buttons.
  3. Laying the game surface and ways to accelerate that process was completed without delay by all students. Surface topography was also mastered without any difficulty and was of real interest to the students for some reason. I dont know why?
  4. Water and the ‘restrictions of water’ was the first fun distraction and perhaps left a few gamers short of time at the end.
  5. Students then deployed their apples. Little or no thought was attached to the apples scoring at this point.
  6. Setting the controls for Kodu (in game character) were solved with some trial and error or with a little online searching. Learning was quickly shared throughout the group. Peer teaching coming into play with novices readily accepting help from the ‘experts.’
  7. Backwards was not considered a necessary movement. This could be achieved through turning….. I wonder if this will change with more advanced game design.
  8. Character paths were used in some instances.
  9. Poor game play regularly lead to further exploration, conversation and collaboration.
  10. Subsequently, more advanced control settings for the Kodu character were uncovered. Without any real understanding, the settings were tested ad hoc.
  11. Game testing was short-lived and as soon as errors occurred, students would quit the game to resolve the issues one at a time.
  12. The cannon launching enemy (Kaboom) was the ‘something’ of choice with one exception, here the game ‘something’ was a race against time.
  13. Pride in game development / progress, rather quality design, was the motivator.
  14. Students predominantly returned to the ‘aspiration,’ only once the game environment had been built.
  15. Gameplay and game resolution was very experimental at this point.
  16. Students typically shared their progress with the students sitting either side of the them only, rarely did they get up to chat and review games. Kodu appeared to be very engaging.
  17. Some students created very basic games, that quickly met the aspiration and then went onto designing random games.

All this in just an hour after school one Wednesday afternoon. Really you need to set it up and see it for yourself.

We are planning to give the students one more week to develop their game, before returning to the drawing board to actually plan out and think through a game design, construction and evaluation.

A Different Approach.

The Kodu Classroom Kit is a set of lesson plans and activities for teachers to download and a range of video tutorials can be found on the ‘GETTING STARTED’ tab here. If you want to teach Kodu skills, then that is all well and good, however IMHO, in the first instance, the game is the teacher. Take an opportunity to really watch your students learn or even join them in their learning.

Judgement

Kodu has excellent potential for digitally enthusiastic students but I honestly believe it would also engage most Key Stage 2 or 3 learners. 

Models of delivery.

Kodu as teacher. Students could be set missions and left to explore solutions leaving you to…. observe / facilitate / prompt / question.

Kodu also makes great teachers out of learners. Set small missions, with the group only receiving the next mission, once all learners have been successful.

The Apprentice style – Define small groups or work as individual on set game tasks or aspirations.

Kodu groups, set differentiated tasks or aspirations to differentiated groups.

Teamwork Kodu – Designers, design the game. Programmers, programme the game in Kodu. Marketers, package and market the game. Gamers, evaluate the game.

What Next

Get stuck in, download Kodu and explore it with your students. I may have been a planetkodu subscriber for over a year, like you, I am at the bottom of a very exciting, but steep Kodu learning curve.

For real Kodu expertise and advice visit Nicki Maddams over at  interactiveclassroom. She is a really genuine and talented educator who also happens to be a Microsoft Evangelist and Aspiring AST, who used to offer Kodu training courses, well at least she did the last time we spoke.

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