New York Institute of Technology - New York City, NY
Meeting students where they are and using game creation as a pathway to teaching and leadership, Christopher Williams, while working with STEP at NYIT brought students into STEM and creates leaders with GameSalad for Education.
STEP into STEM
STEP, a NYSED grant funded program with a goal of increasing the number of historically underrepresented and economically disadvantaged students prepared to enter college and improve participation in STEM fields. As a recipient of STEM funding, Mr. Christopher Williams has worked with over 187 students in seven school districts throughout Long Island.
As part of STEP, Mr. Williams’ goal was to find platforms that teach both baseline skills and bring in real world experience.
“I’m really focused on the students understanding that they have a responsibility to science. Regardless of wherever they go, science is going to impact their lives and they have to understand it. It’s not a choice, it’s a requirement now. You’re inheriting a world that needs your input.”
When seeking platforms like GameSalad, Mr. Williams looks for what it provides beyond the content: “I try to find experiences. What leadership skills did you get out of that? How does it address Computational Thinking? Does it provide enough room for creativity? Yes, you have to code, but where else is it going for you? Where is this experience going to lead you? There has to be more stuff that you can add from your thinking and experiences, so that this is more than just an activity.”
Meets Students Where They Are
Different students find engagement in different ways. Mr. Williams works to connect student interest to the task at hand:
Does a student who loves sports love the sound of the crowd or the sounds of the sport itself? Bring those sounds into their game and make that game your own. Sound is its own character, do not neglect it.
Do they love to write? Have them imbue their game with a narrative that matters to them.
Having made that connection between game design and the personality of the designer, he then has the students thinking about the context in which games are designed. Mr. Williams asks them to look at popular games and make guesses about what different design decisions tell them about the designer:
Does the game narrative reflect your story? What can you infer about the team from this? Are they familiar with your cultural background? If not, how would you create a game that introduces people to your culture?
“I had three young ladies who were extremely quiet. But they were also extremely gifted. bright, energetic, and they had so much potential. They were the shyest of the shy.”
So, Mr. Williams put the three quiet students together in a team, rather than pairing them with students who were more outgoing: “You guys are going to design a game.” With the students expressing doubt and disbelief, saying they didn’t like coding, he agreed: “I hate coding! Drives me nuts because I always get the semicolons messed up.”
The students also objected to the idea of “block coding”. That’s ok too, he replied. His answer to them: GameSalad, which does not require semicolon placement OR blocks.
Instead of focusing on typing out code, GameSalad allowed Mr. Williams to take a different tact. Playing to each student’s strengths, encouraging one student to focus on her love of art and design, another to focus on her favorite thing, writing: write a good story for her game. In three weeks the students were able to design and build a basic game from a tutorial and then put their own story, art, and gameplay spin to it.
Advancing the students towards the leadership objective, first, Mr. Williams asked the students to present their lesson in the noisy concourse of a mall, with all of the distractions involved. While the students were skeptical, they completed the task. This solidified their confidence that they could present this material successfully! With that experience conquered, Mr. Williams then encouraged the team of three to present their lesson to an audience of 100 students at a conference in Albany.
“I utilized the GameSalad platform to enhance their presentation, teaching, and leadership skills.”
In a feat of confidence and willpower, the students succeeded, taking the skills they learned all the way from building games to teaching other students. A lecture hall full of fellow students, who had never used GameSalad before, brought their own devices and created a project that day with the girls’ guidance.
Mr. Williams is thrilled that these bright students, with confidence to help fuel their potential, are now off working on many other projects in their school careers, and presenting at leadership conferences all over.
Learning Through Teaching
Building on this success, Mr. Williams created more cohorts of students “bored to tears,” with entry level coding platforms, but hadn’t quite built the confidence to engage with more advanced coding. He appreciated how GameSalad’s creation platform fills the coding curriculum gap that exists between elementary block coding and advanced coding languages.
Students were asked to learn GameSalad basics and then teach them to other students. The students were then expected to start helping each other before they themselves reach full mastery.
When they ask Mr. Williams if they’re teaching how to do things the “right” way, he simply replies, in a phrase his students hate, “I don’t know, is it?” Mr. Williams explained to them: if the logic they program results in the correct outcome, it matters less what exact code was used than what the resulting programming does.
As students gained experience, they realized that teaching and learning isn’t solely about having answers. Much as in life, it involves exploring various methods to solve a problem and discovering the most effective one. They understand that it’s okay to fail and view it as an opportunity to learn alongside their fellow students. By the end of their experience, they recognize that failure is not a negative outcome, as long as they gain valuable insights throughout their journey.
Mr. Williams’ inspiring approach turned reluctant students into eager teachers that kept coming back every week.
Meeting students where they are, building mastery through teaching, and using teaching as a pathway to leadership skills, Mr. Christopher Williams used creation tools like GameSalad to connect to students and build the next generation or STEM informed leaders.