Common Sense Review
Updated December 2013

Kodu Game Lab

Game programming tool for visual thinkers
Common Sense Rating 4
Allows kids to build playable 3D video games without hand coding.
While it makes things easier, it still may prove too difficult for newcomers.
Bottom Line
The 3D game making environment, and fun, Lego like visual logic will definitely grab some students, but others will need support the game just doesn't provide.
David Thomas
Common Sense Reviewer
Director of academic technology
Common Sense Rating 4
Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return? 3

Clickable menus replace written code, so it's easy to jump in and make games. Unfortunately, it's also easy for a new Kodu explorer to get lost.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer? 4

The Lego brick approach to coding helps kids grasp some of the harder parts of procedural programming and encourages experimentation, helping kids discover new knowledge and build skills.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students? 4

Tutorials and an online community provide a good foundation, and there's even a Kodu book for kids who want to dig deep. Curriculum is available for teachers. 

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How Can Teachers Use It?

While Kodu would be great for programming classrooms, it can also be used by teachers of any subject interested in cultivating 21st century literacies and using game-based learning approaches. Think of Kodu less as a way to teach programming, and more a tool to demonstrate content knowledge. Students can work in project teams to design and develop games inspired by something covered in class, or that teach content to other students. Teachers can also draw on Kodu's associated curriculum which includes basic introductory lessons to the platform as well as math-focused lessons where kids learn core math concepts like area and probability while making games.

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What's It Like?

Kodu Game Lab is a tool for making 3D video games without all the toil and complexity of hand coding. Kodu's visual menus let students act as game designers, pointing and clicking to create objects and define their behaviors in the game world through visual, Lego-like "if this, then that" statements. As easy as Kodu makes things, however, there's still potential that it's a bit too obtuse for the uninitiated who might begin more successfully with something 2D like Scratch or Hopscotch.  But once students get the hang of it, and add in more objects and actions, they'll be building 3D games sure to get them excited and engaged in a way other platforms can't match.

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Is It Good For Learning?

When teaching programming, it can be hard to keep students engaged since it takes a long time before they can code anything interesting. Kodu tries to avoid boredom and frustration by letting new programmers do the fun stuff first -- building a colorful 3D world, and adding characters and objects only takes minutes. Once the world is in place, the real work begins as students add programmatic behaviors to their world using a simple “if this, then that” visual language rather than writing actual code. As an introduction to programming, Kodu does a great job of showing how designing a game (or other piece of software) requires breaking the problem down into individual parts. The colorful block-based code encourages discovery-based learning by toying with a core foundation of computer science --  procedural logic.

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