App review by Amanda Bindel, Common Sense Education | Updated November 2016
Kodu Game Lab

Kodu Game Lab

Open-ended game design and programming tool for visual thinkers

Learning rating
Editorial review by Common Sense Education
Community rating
Based on 12 reviews
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Not yet rated Expert evaluation by Common Sense
3–12 This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
Subjects & Skills
Science, Creativity, Critical Thinking

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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.

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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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. 

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.

Overall Rating

Engagement Would it motivate students and hold their interest? Is it visually appealing? Would it inspire teachers to try something new or change their instruction?

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 Does the tool help teachers promote a more student-centered experience? Will students gain conceptual understanding or think critically? Does it deepen teachers’ pedagogical thinking?

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 Can students and teachers get assistance when they need it? Is it created with people of different abilities and backgrounds in mind? Is learning reinforced and extended beyond the digital experience?

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. 

Common Sense reviewer
Amanda Bindel Classroom teacher

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Featured review by
Chris V. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Fun Programming, Lots of Distractions
Super motivating for students and the fact that they get to use an x-box controller in class is even more incentive. Students seem to catch on really quickly to the concepts and enjoy creating. I have found that students can sometimes get lost quickly and are distracted easily in the process. I like the idea of teaching programming through creation tools and this should fit the bill, however I don't think students can afford as much time as it takes to create something (our curriculum is just too lar ...
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