Common Sense Review
Updated November 2016

Kodu Game Lab

Open-ended game design and programming tool for visual thinkers
Common Sense Rating 4
  • Students will have a blast creating their own colorful worlds.
  • There are a variety of options for programming your characters, from timers to scoring.
  • The coding logic is simpler than text-based programming but can still be difficult for some students.
  • Draw paths for your characters to follow.
  • Upload your completed worlds and search for others' games to play.
Pros
Engaging way for kids to build playable 3D video games without writing code.
Cons
While it makes coding easier, a lack of direction still may prove too difficult for newcomers.
Bottom Line
The 3D game-making environment and fun, visual logic will definitely grab some students, but others will need support the game just doesn't provide.
Amanda Bindel
Common Sense Reviewer
Classroom teacher
Common Sense Rating 4
Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return? 4

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

Dragging images of objects into place and selecting instructional code helps kids grasp some of the harder parts of procedural programming and encourages experimentation. 

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students? 3

Tutorials and an online community provide a good foundation, and there's even a Kodu book for kids who want to dig deeper. A 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 literacy skills and using game-based learning approaches. Think of Kodu less as a way to teach programming and more as a tool to demonstrate content knowledge. Students can work in project teams to design and develop games inspired by something covered in class or games that teach content to other students. 

As easy as Kodu makes things, however, it's still possibly 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 that are sure to get them excited and engaged in a way other platforms can't match.

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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 real coding. Kodu's visual menus let students act as game designers, pointing and clicking to create objects (and worlds) and defining their behaviors in the game through visual, Lego-like "if this, then that" statements. When finished, students can share their worlds and games online for others to play.

Kodu provides some tutorials and a curriculum, which includes basic introductory lessons to the platform as well as math-focused lessons where kids learn core concepts like area and probability while making games. The user community also has created many other tutorials and guides for various subjects. 

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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 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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