Wednesday, May 11, 2011


What Is ThinkQuest?

ThinkQuest is an online program that challenges students to develop educational Web sites for K-12 curriculum. Students can win great prizes for themselves and their school.

The ThinkQuest resources featured in Teacher Tacklebox represent only a small portion of the many great educational resources developed by students available at the ThinkQuest Library of Entries.

We encourage teachers to inform their students of this opportunity and to encourage them to enter the ThinkQuest challenge.



What is Kodu ?
Kodu is a new visual programming language made specifically for creating games. It is designed to be accessible for children and enjoyable for anyone. The programming environment runs on the Xbox, allowing rapid design iteration using only a game controller for input.

Integrating Kodu and gaming into the classroom

Being a gamer myself, I’ve always been attuned to the potential for gaming to become more than just an entertainment device. I think leveraging video games in the classroom can not only stimulate thinking and help develop problem solving and logic skills, but also inspire and excite kids about learning. That’s why I’m thrilled Kodu is now officially available on the Xbox Live Community Games channel. Created in Microsoft Research (MSR), Kodu is a new visual programming tool that allows you to create video games on the Xbox 360, but it’s also a really interesting way to help young children learn the basics of computer programming through a visual and familiar interface.

If you are with a school or an educator interested in using Kodu in your curriculum, you can sign up here to get involved in the academic beta program on the PC. Space is limited, and it requires an Xbox 360 controller for Windows and a reasonable graphics card. You can read more about Kodu’s potential use in the classroom here, and how kids at a Michigan elementary school took Kodu for an early test drive during the development phase here. Also, check out the demo video below from Alfred Thompson, one of our K-12 Computer Science Academic Relations Managers here at Microsoft. The Kodu forum also has lots of chatter if you need programming tips, want to talk to the community building games and keep up on product developments.

The potential for Kodu in the classroom is huge. There are three core elements schools should think about in terms of how to maximize the potential of gaming from a learning perspective. Most schools think about gaming in relation to creating simulation-based experiences in a visual or interactive way that enable collaboration (think Second Life). I blogged earlier about how avatars can help get students more engaged in their learning experiences.

Gaming is a great way to inspire kids to get exposed to and to understand core skills. Kodu can help kids understand the fundamentals and principals of software development. We can make learning experiences more relevant. If we can get kids interested in gaming concepts early, then hopefully they will think about their potential career aspirations and develop skills early.

I think there is also potential for incorporating gaming into the way we do assessments. Kids respond to the gaming culture. There’s this notion of achievement and winning in games that incent players to accomplish certain tasks in order to get recognition. Wouldn’t it be great if we could leverage those core concepts for learning? Using elements of games to have rich interactive learning management systems where kids are incented, rewarded and recognized to complete quizzes, to do lesson plans, or to share information and collaborate on a subject.

I’d be curious to hear if your school is receptive to incorporating gaming in the classroom, and what innovative projects you are assigning your students…