Some say video games hinder children’s learning and social skills, but there’s a hands-on approach where familiarity with consoles boosts both
The new computing curriculum has been a steep learning curve for some. Going from manipulating text within a Word document to mastering concepts such as algorithms and debugging is a big leap. At Boxgrove Primary School in Guildford, we were no different and the transition was a struggle for some of the more experienced staff. But we got there.
When it comes to computing and online activity, as teachers I believe our priority should be to ensure that children are using the internet safely and are protected from accessing harmful content or being inappropriately approached on social media. But beyond that, we should roll with new ideas rather than fight against them.
So, when a couple of years ago Alan Harrison, director of education technology specialists ComputerXplorers, first told me that children in his clubs were designing their own video games using Xbox controllers, I was very open to the idea – despite not being a gamer myself. We run three different after-school clubs a week offering children a wide variety of things to try, and the sessions run by ComputerXplorers are always among the most popular. So I knew this one would be a hit too.
Children use Kodu and an Xbox controller (or keyboard and mouse) to program and design their own age-appropriate video games on a PC or laptop. Because of their familiarity with the controllers and their knowledge of the each coloured button’s function, they’re able to jump straight in to programming the characters and designing and constructing their own games.
Thanks to these after-school clubs we’ve noticed a huge shift in peer teaching during class time. In our computing classes we use Expresso Coding, task-based modules where each lesson focuses on building on the skills learned in the previous session. But in the after-school clubs, the children learning on Kodu are able to work on a complete project, and can save their work from session to session. These pupils are then actively helping their classmates out with coding during lessons.
Kodu isn’t just teaching them basic programming, however, it’s also helping them learn to problem-solve. If the game doesn’t do what they planned, they have to look back at each step of the programming to see what has gone wrong and where, and then put it right – a skill that’s transferable across every area of the curriculum.
It’s an initiative that’s had noticeable effect on children’s self-esteem and attention spans too. Some of the children we least expected to sign up for the club, children who before found it hard to stay in the chair in the classroom, have completely surprised themselves, and us, by achieving things they never thought they could. Their confidence has improved no end, and as a result we’ve seen a real difference in their ability to concentrate in class and persist with tasks. Plus, once the games have been completed, the children play each other’s creations and verbally evaluate them, aiding literacy and communication skills.
Imagination has a big part to play too, as 11-year-old pupil Sebastian found out. For him, it has opened up a whole new world, igniting an interest in game development and leading him to design apps at home. “You need to use your imagination to think of something exciting and then bring it to life,” he says. “With Kodu you can build a game, then play it, and if something goes wrong you have to go back and sort it out.”
I once heard that 80 per cent of the jobs that the children in my class will be doing haven’t even been invented yet, so acknowledging the increasing role of technology within education is vital. Innovations such as Kodu can only help us teachers to engage all children and foster an interest in the technology skills that will be vital for their futures.
Peter Wright is Computing Coordinator and Year 2 teacher at Boxgrove Primary School, Guildford
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