Kodu – that visual programming thing

Kodu – if you have not heard about it  – you need to. Here at Hamble College our ICT Department has been planning for its introduction for just under a year. Improving the graphics cards, in-house Kodu learning and training. For the past two weeks the team have been using Kodu as an introduction to programming, to promote and market the new ICT in Computing the team are offering next year, just in time for Yr9 Options.

Kodu’s impact after 1 lesson with pure independence….

Our Director of Learning sent me an email yesterday noting

My feeling is that this has had huge positive impact across Yr7,8 & 9 over the past 2 weeks, it was brought up by students a lot at parents evening last week and has played a huge role in options. – Amir Fakhoury

Well you might expect an ICT teacher to say that, but what about the students….

Kodu is a software that helps develop your thinking and learning skills whilst having fun making a game/control kodu. It is basically a simple visual programming thing that anyone can have fun with and create things using their imaginations. Kodu, in my opinion, can be used for any age but may be slightly hard on the younger gamers. I have learnt that Kodu can help with your puzzle solving skills, teach creativity and storytelling and also programming. I have also learnt that, personally, it is easier to play with the controls than read because some of the controls look confusing. I solely think that it is a fun game that definitely help with my I.T. skills and my creative skills. – Shannon

A second comment revealed the challenge of Kodu and again supported out belief that in the right context, with the right environment, coding could offer real value to the curriculum.

Visual programming lets the user of the website create a program; for instance a game called Kudo is a program where you can make your own land up for your character and you then get to give your character commands.

Personally, I liked the way you could create your world from scratch and the program gave you lots of options on colour schemes. I also thought it was very easy to get onto the program.

I think the site could be improved by making it easier to look at your land from a different angle because I couldn’t get a bird’s eye view which made it very difficult to see what I had done with my land. When I scrolled back, on my mouse, I lost my land and had to start again because I couldn’t find my land because my screen went black. Also, the graphics were very pixelated. I didn’t get onto putting my robot/character onto my land because it wasn’t finished, so I don’t know what that was like.

Overall I think this site is very good for people who are experienced with ICT but I found it fiddly and, at times, frustrating!

It was very reassuring to hear such positive comments from our students and it’s great seeing our girls enthused by programming. It certainly fulfil the remit to challenge and inspire.

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Kodu for the Curriculum Challenge

kodu11The past three years I have worked with a fantastic group of students at Hamble and Community Sports College. Our Digital Leaders have contributed to ICT at the school in many different ways, many of them documented here this blog. However, this year I’ve taken a new role and subsequently we have a new Director of ICT who is now guiding the students in their leadership role. It would not be impossible to find the time to work with this group every week, but out of respect to my colleague, I only drop in here and there, mainly to recognise their achievements, review project work or occasionally as ‘cover.’

If I am honest, I missed their enthusiasm. Some of these students have invested nearly three years into the programme.  Add to that their positive response to the introduction of Kodu, I felt it was a good time to re-connect.

Session 3

A very broad mission was presented. In groups of no more than 3, use Kodu to teach an area of the curriculum, what has become known as the ‘Kodu for the Curriculum’ challenge. Initially ideas were nearly are bizarre and their team names….

Team G33ks – Healthy living. Bad stuff equals negative health and speed, good stuff add health and speed until FULL health is achieved and a WINNER status activated. Year 10, 10, 9, 8.

Team Investigation – Sex education, learning about the obstacles in fertilization. WINNER status activated on fertilizing the egg. Time factor. 2 Year 7 students.

Team Oranges – A maths based problem solving game. Multiple choice response system activated by Kodu movement or pressure pads. Multi levels. WINNER status is achieved by completing all the levels. Year 9, 9, 8.

Team Wwrsen – The play poses as a piece of data within software. The objective is to help young coders, learn coding procedure. WINNER status is yet to be decided. Year 9, 9, 9.

Team Editisers – Initial idea – these guys wanted a little more time. Year 9, 8, 8.

Team Spun – these guys are still exploring Kodu having missed the introduction tasks. Year 10, 10, 9, 8.

The conversation and planning phase left little time for actual Kodu programming but the debate was lively and I am pleased that conversation considered gaming content as well as game play. One of the most visceral concerns was avoiding game lag. Lets see how we get on over the next few weeks.

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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.


  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.


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.