Guest post by Education Writer Gerald Haigh

Following up on the recent blog post ‘Computer Science in the National Curriculum: Program or be Programmed’, I had a conversation with Claire Lotriet, ICT Co-ordinator and Year 5/6 leader at Henwick Primary School in Greenwich. Claire is author of the primary school resource, ‘Switched on Computing’, a joint enterprise of Microsoft and publisher ‘Rising Stars’.

We talked particularly about Unit 6 of the resource, which is built around Microsoft’s visual programming language ‘Kodu’. During the Autumn of 2013, ahead of the publication of ‘Switched on Computing’, Claire used Unit 6 and Kodu extensively with her Year Six class. How did the children take to it? I wondered.

image“It went down a storm,” she says. The attraction, she explained, lies in Kodu’s use of the gaming concept.

Most of the children are into games, on the Xbox and so on, and when she showed them that Kodu is about creating their own computer games, they were hooked. Kodu, of course, is free, which benefits children as well as the school.

“It meant that a lot of them downloaded it at home”, says Claire.

image“They would work how to do different things and then bring the ideas back to class. This, in turn, led to growing peer support, as children answered each others’ questions. They were definitely pushing Kodu further than I expected.

They would work out things that I hadn’t taught them – how to change the lighting in the sky for example. Kodu promotes that – the interface is an invitation to explore, and more and more children were coming back into class knowing how to do more things with it. That’s not to say there were no stumbling blocks along the way. When they produce a sequence of code, as often as not it won’t work as they want first time. They have to evaluate it, see what needs to change. It was something of a learning curve and some children struggled with it at first”

But as she says, that process of ‘debugging’ is in the very nature of computer programming, specifically mentioned in the curriculum.

“It’s important and it doesn’t just apply to computing” says Claire. “If we teach writing, for example, we place the same importance on going back and editing and correcting.

The children also had to learn to judge the level of difficulty of their games.

We were producing them for an audience of younger children, and the games had to be difficult enough to pose a challenge but not so hard that it turns the player. Pitching at the right level is another skill to be learned.”

To see Kodu used by children is to realise just how rich are its creative and cross-curricular possibilities. The starting point, which is the creation of a unique world, with an infinite number of possible landscapes and features, is a richly stimulating challenge in itself, even before the serious business of adding characters, challenges, chases and surprises.

“What came across to me when we were creating the worlds was that we didn’t have any that were the same. The settings were so varied. Kodu games, like all computer games, are stories, and their creation offers many teaching and learning opportunities.

We were able to discuss how the setting can change the feel of the story, creating moods”

imageThere are also many links with literacy.Unit 6 of ‘Switched on Computing’ is called not just ‘Creating’, but ‘Creating and Advertising a Computer Game’. 

This means there is an element of enterprise education. Children learn about the importance of cover design and text, advertising copy, persuasive writing, and methods of marketing.

Now, with enthusiasm running high, Claire plans to enter at least one team in Microsoft’s Kodu Kup competition which, given the demands of the curriculum, and the increasing use of Kodu, looks like being a major event.

To find out more about The Switched on Computing range from Rising Stars, follow this link: http://www.risingstars-uk.com/all-series/switched-on-computing/