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Kodu: Reinventing Computer Programming
By Andrew Silver, Grade 12

A hundred years ago, there was no such thing as a computer. Now, innovations have driven the world to virtual social networks, three-dimensional television, and commercial space travel. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Software Publisher industry will grow by 30% from 2008 to 2018, opening new positions for fresh college graduates or oversea geniuses, but that is probably an understatement. “Computer skills” are no longer a commodity, but something that each citizen requires to function in modern society. Unfortunately, modern program languages like C or C++ come with a steep learning curve for young students, and until recently Florida high school students had no other options for getting ahead in the postmodern era. The Scribbler, a Python-controlled robot designed to teach middle and high school students to program, was a hit, but it did not go far enough. Joining the likes of MIT’s Scratch project is Kodu, a brand new computer programming system built for five-year-olds to adults.

Kodu is built as a “visual” programming language that allows users to select buttons to perform “actions.” The default character is a cute little monster called a “Kodu,” which can be colorized, resized, and accessorized. When “something” happens, like a missile hitting a tree, the tree could do “something,” like disappearing. The programmable options are inherently limited by what Microsoft included in the application, but a determined youth could theoretically mimic much of Halo Reach. The included options satisfied me for at least three hours before I had to stop, pleasantly surprised. I barely missed the deadline for the “Kodu Cup,” which offered many alluring tech prizes for the best programs.

Interested individuals can find out more about Kodu at http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/projects/kodu/. There is a succinct five-minute tutorial, recommended lesson plans, and more readily available. Finally, parents can get their Xbox addicted teenagers off of their behinds for the summer by forcing them to do something productive (while still playing video games). Theoretically, Florida Virtual School could design an elementary or middle school course around Kodu, to accompany the already developed Computer Programming I and AP Computer Science courses offered for high school students, but with Kodu's simplicity, all it really takes is a little bit of free time this summer. Students should just make sure to take regular breaks from the computer, and visit their doctor if they feel any soreness or fatigue.

Sources:
http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/projects/kodu/
http://www.bls.gov/oco/cg/cgs051.htm
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/18899276/ns/technology_and_science-innovation/t/us-colleges-retool-programming-classes/
http://bellevue.patch.com/articles/microsofts-kodu-takes-kids-from-game-players-to-game-makers
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/19/magazine/19Essays-kodu-t.html?_r=1
Photograph by Lexi, Grade 12 


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