Koding: A journey
Over the last few years programming and control have been gaining more and more interest from the wider teaching community.
Me? I've always loved it! It was the best part about the old ICT curriculum.
As a teacher, I have explored a number of pieces of software and hardware on my journey to find those best for teaching programing and control, or computer science as it is now referred to. One particularly useful resource has been Kodu.
For those of you who have never heard of Kodu, this is 3D programming environment where you can create 3D landscapes and program a range of 3D objects. Basically, it allows you to create 3D games. I chose to explore Kodu to give me an alternative to other programing software available.
I like the fact it looks and plays like a modern computer game.
What I did
I first used Kodu about four years ago in Year 6 and have most recently successfully taught it in Year 4. The basic planning progression remained in both year groups. My reasoning for moving the unit to a lower year and experimenting was due to the upcoming computing curriculum reforms: Could a Year 4 child cope with the concepts?
I planned the unit to incrementally introduce parts of the program and set a challenge to get the children to work out the solution. For example, the first lesson was to simply use one of the prebuilt tutorial levels and get them to programme, or Kode, the character to move around the landscape.
We then moved on to learning how 3D landscapes, or levels, can be created, how to collect objects, as well as how to add heath meters, weapons and timers. When I first started using Kodu, there were only a few tutorial levels built into the game; now, there are loads of great ones that you can use to teach the key concepts.
Eventually, after the children had a good idea of how Kodu worked, we progressed to planning and then creating our own game. The planning process was key here: it is very easy to jump straight into Kodu and then forget what you were supposed to do.
I wanted the children to achieve very specific things in their game, so I created a planning template that they had to use before work started. This kept the children very focused on the task of including features in the game that we had been learning about earlier.
One of the most successful examples of the work last year was a girl who managed to create a story which progressed as you moved around the level and visited certain characters.
What worked well and what had to change
The children's excitement and enthusiasm when using this piece of software was undeniable. Children could also work at their own pace thanks to the tutorials, it was easy to push those who worked quickly.
However, over the course of the development it became clear that the children would need very specific guidance on what to achieve in a final piece of work, hence the introduction of the planning sheet. As the children gained confidence I also needed to understand more about Kodu.
More technically, Kodu offered a nice, easy-to-read visual programing language that could be explained easily to the children. While it is possible to use a mouse and keyboard with Kodu, we did find this could be quite frustrating. I was lucky and managed to buy some Xbox controllers, originally it was on Microsoft's Xbox, to use with the software and this helped to make the software much easier to use. In the end, I found that the children worked best on Kodu when using the Xbox controllers.
Ultimately, I think that games like Kodu will support a lot of the computer science elements of the new computing curriculum. Just remember, you don't have to be an expert to use games to teach coding (or anything for that matter). Initially you can learn along with the children using tutorials with the game itself. If this has interested you, why not give it a go? (http://www.kodugamelab.com/).
I will be continuing to explore more software that can teach computer science concepts. Unlike most subjects there is new software and hardware being developed all the time so it is important to keep up with the newest innovations. The challenge is always where else computational thinking and programming can fit in the wider curriculum.
Nic is the Head of Computing at Latymer Prep School, previously AST for the London Borough of Redbridge and founder of the Redbridge Games Network.
Nesta's games in education blog series seeks to encourage a wider discussion. To share your thoughts, ideas and questions, please comment below or tweet using #gamelearning