It's engaging, fun, great learning and it's free. Tony Parkin gets into the Kodu Kup
Probably the last thing the scientists steering the Mars Rover up one of the mountains of Mars expected to encounter was an awkward alien, asking difficult questions. But when the mountain in question is Mount Kerching, and the Rover is part of a Kodu game being programmed by London primary pupils, that’s what you may get.
During the visit to Microsoft’s Victoria offices by seven of the eight schools involved in the original ‘8 in 8’ project (see "Pieces of 8 – learning with 'Kodu' tops Microsoft prizes") most of the day was given over to helping the pupils get started on their entries for the Kodu Kup. This Microsoft competition, open to all 7 to 14-year-old students in UK schools, aims to demonstrate just how easy it is for beginners to get started with computer programming.
And it was certainly successful, judging by the fun had during the day, and the progress made by both pupils and teachers, none of whom had met Kodu or programming before. Pupils worked in teams of three under Kodu Kup rules, and the competition stipulates that entries must consist of two files – a game programmed using Microsoft’s own Kodu programming environment, and a game case cover to advertise the details of the game. It also stipulates that the game should feature at least one of three Kodu themes:
- Mars Exploration – using the Mars Rover character in Kodu Game Lab to create a game centred around the exploration of Mars;
- Water Awareness – creating a game that tackles the environmental issue of water. This can be a local or school-based scenario or something more global;
- Retro Arcade games – recreating an arcade game from the past with a Kodu twist.
So there were plenty of opportunities for the groups of pupils to get their creative juices flowing, and many started to develop ideas that combined more than one theme. Hence the Mars Rover climbing Mount Kerching, collecting coins and answering those tricky alien questions en route.
Gameplay inspired by classroom reading of ‘Holes’
Sunnyhill Primary pupils had been reading Louis Sacher’s novel, Holes. Its theme of water lent itself perfectly to the Kodu Kup challenge, and before long the teams had a game design on the go. The game opening would feature the first chapter of the book, then the game levels kicked in and you had to get past water guards to try and get water to fill the eponymous ‘holes’ now dug in the Kodu landscape. Being flooded out as the game progressed, and needing to climb a mountain to find a boat rapidly, followed as ideas came thick and fast.
Meanwhile, pupils from St John’s Angell Town Primary were grabbed by the retro-game idea, and linked it with the water theme to start on a pipe-building game that had some of the teachers in the room looking distinctly nostalgic. Ideas such as rat attacks, dead-ends and some nasty saboteurs were incorporated into the mix as the day’s planning and programming sessions flew by.
After presenting their game ideas, all the pupils and staff were agreed on one thing… they were going to continue to work on their ideas and get them into the Kodu Kup proper! And they still have time to do so – the closing date for the competition is May 31 2013.
To enter, the schools will need to register their teams at Microsoft’s Partners in Learning site. The themes are aimed at promoting the inclusion of computer science across the curriculum. So even if they are not specifically ICT teachers, teachers can still enter students into the competition. Full details, resources, support and the teachers' guide can be downloaded from the community on the Partners in Learning Network.
To get a sense of what pupils can achieve with Kodu, take a look at the video below. Award-winning Microsoft Innovative Teacher Nicki Maddams explains how her students use Kodu to create wonderful, engaging game environments. She was presenting their work to more than 500 teachers and school and education policy leaders from 80 countries at the eighth Microsoft Partners in Learning Global Forum held in Prague in the Czech Republic last year.
Kodu Kup winners get Xbox 360s and Kinects
Ten winning entries will be selected by a team of judges, and teams will be invited to Microsoft UK Headquarters in Reading for a day of Kodu activities, where they will share and present their game. Three teams will be selected as the top three and each of the members will receive an Xbox 360 and Kinect as a prize. One team will also be awarded the accolade of being Kodu Kup champions.
After the day's activities, Steve Beswick, Microsoft UK's director of education, said, “Microsoft has been working hard to get the message out there that we need to get people excited about computer science from a much earlier age. Gaming is an area that we know young children are passionate about. Our approach is all about harnessing that passion and channelling it in a way that can help them to learn new, simple programming skills, which could ultimately help them on to a career path that involves computer science.
"Microsoft’s Kodu programme has proven extremely popular with schoolteachers who have begun to use it in their classrooms. Today’s event was a special one for us, as we challenged our 80 schoolchildren to develop a game of their own using Kodu. It was really pleasing to see so many children absolutely engrossed in the process of developing their ideas on Kodu, and we’ll be encouraging them to submit their games into our national competition, the ‘Kodu Kup’”.
You can find the latest updates and support on a dedicated Kodu Kup UK Facebook page and follow the competition’s progress on Twitter via @kodukup.
Microsoft Blog on Kodu Kup
Blog post by Nicki Maddams marking launch of Kodu Kup
Slideshare Teachers Guide
Partners in Learning Network
Kodu Kup Facebook page
Nicki Maddams on Twitter: @GeekyNicki