Fun and engaging programming for students with Kodu

Discovering Kodu programming for students

Just the other day, some of the team at Exa Education visited a Hub meeting organised by Computing at School. Hub meetings bring together teachers interested in a particular subject, with a couple of presentations and a whole lot of discussion going on. This particular meeting was about taking a look at technology in schools, with a lot of discussion going on about the BBC micro:bit.

Among some great discussion on distributing, teaching and using the micro:bit, we saw a truly interesting presentation on Kodu, a programming IDE from Microsoft Fuse Labs. From the presentation (and some additional research), Kodu looks to be a truly incredible tool for teaching programming to young learners, so we’ve put together some information about what Kodu is, how it works and what it can be used for.

Much like languages such as Scratch, Kodu is a visual programming language designed with young Digital Makers in mind. This means that programming is done visually, rather than being text-based, which helps young programmers stay interested - staring at text on a screen isn’t exactly something which appeals to many children!

Kodu uses a 3D environment, and is almost entirely used to create games, making it particularly popular for young learners. Users can program characters to react in a certain way to various inputs, moving, jumping, collecting and more. You can be sure that your students will actually enjoy using Kodu - it’s far simpler than most other basic programming languages, and lets them create games that they’ll enjoy playing. Impressively, Kodu’s entirely free for anyone with a PC (there’s no support for Mac, though).

Programming Kodu games in class

Kodu programming snippets are put together with a series of visual pieces, which determine how various features react to different interactions. There’s a wide range of pieces available for Kodu programmers, allowing young users to create games that they’re actually interested in playing and showing to friends. This versatility is really important for programming tools aimed at the young, and it’s part of why we think Kodu is a great tool for early years teaching.

While Kodu’s definitely great for self-guided learning, there are a lot of resources available for teachers. The Kodu resources page includes starter guides, tutorials, and game design courses, all of which work to give users a solid introduction to using the language.

If you’re looking for a way to encourage students to start using their BBC micro:bits, Kodu can definitely help. The language recently added micro:bit support in a few different ways - users can control games using the micro:bit, set the device up to respond to various events (displaying messages on the LED screen, activating extra devices and more).

At the Hub meeting, we saw the micro:bit’s motion sensor used as a controller - by tilting the device, the featured character moved around the screen, while the two buttons were mapped to jump and shoot. Even if using the micro:bit for this function seems a bit basic, you can be absolutely sure that your students will love being able to program it themselves.

We at Exa Education definitely feel that Kodu is a great way to give students a start with programming, and we really recommend that computing teachers take the time to try it out.