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Pupils powered up by coding contest

Argyll and Bute primary wins national game design prize

Argyll and Bute primary wins national game design prize

Popular racing video game series Mario Kart allows drivers to speed through fantastical landscapes, from snowy scenes to desert islands where pirate ships fire cannon balls.

Pupils at Dunoon Primary in Argyll and Bute took inspiration from the classic Nintendo games to create their own version, Rural Racers. This recently won Microsoft's Kodu Kup, beating hundreds of other entries from schools across the UK.

In Rural Racers - which was created from scratch by three P6 and P7 pupils using visual programming language Kodu - players take control of the protagonist Connor.

Rather than the outlandish backdrops that gamers might be used to, Connor races his bike through the rolling fields of rural Scotland - the dominant landscape in the Dunoon Primary pupils' own lives.

Level 2 - should you make it that far - sees Connor zoom through a more urban environment in search of a coin.

The game has proved so popular that it already has its own range of merchandise, including stickers, key rings, hats, T-shirts and even boxes of fudge emblazoned with the Rural Racers logo.

Of the 300 computer games entered into Microsoft's annual Kodu Kup competition this year, Rural Racers came out on top, winning the primary category as well as the overall prize.

According to Microsoft's Stuart Ball, the game uses "an original concept to great effect, as well as a clever yet simple business plan with Scottish-themed merchandise".

Next level

Mary Peek is the learning assistant who runs the weekly after-school computing club at which the game was developed. She said the confidence of the pupils who designed the game - Olivia Robertson, Lewis MacKay and Aidan Purdie - had rocketed as a result of their win.

Now the school is determined that all its students should get a taste of programming, and plans to turn the computer club regulars into peer tutors to pass on their expertise.

"This competition has not just taught these pupils digital skills," acting depute head Elaine Stewart said. "They have learned about presenting to an audience, working together and problem-solving. This is about getting our pupils equipped for the 21st century; that's why we want to take it forward. And the children just love it, it comes very naturally to them."

Last year the school's computer club was using Project Spark, a video game in which players develop their own games. Ms Stewart was so impressed with the pupils' work that she introduced the software to their peers in P4-7. Ms Peek, meanwhile, introduced P1-3 classes to Kodu, with the help of Steven Simpson, a senior pupil from Dunoon Grammar School.

More primaries should encourage their pupils to take part in peer tutoring for computer science, according to Gary Clark, a developer in Argyll and Bute Council's learning technologies team. "It's the most sustainable way to do this," he said.

The team has visited 55 of the authority's 70-plus primary schools, examining the available equipment and setting up computer science projects. But it does not have the capacity to keep coming back to offer assistance and advice.

"The speed [at which] young people learn when they are using technology means that they often quickly overtake the teacher, and the teacher takes on more a facilitator role," Mr Clark said. "We want young people to be creators of digital content. Instead of just playing computer games, can we teach them to make their own? If they get an idea they can begin to work out how they might realise it."

As for the three Kodu Kup winners, their ambitions are growing. One has already approached a young entrepreneur who started his ICT business straight from school for advice.

However, until they hit the big time, they will have their winnings - an Xbox each - to keep them entertained and up to speed with goings-on in the gaming world.

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