Jack Farrell

Lead STEM Instructor, Game Design Camp

Creative Encounters with Science

When the world went virtual, Jack and his invaluable Co-Instructor Tyne rolled out a robust and interactive online summer game design camp for beginners with the help of the GameSalad’s web based creator.

A Creative STEM Experience

Fostering creativity and passion for the fields of STEM is the main goal at Creative Encounters with Science, a non-profit organization based out of the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. Since their founding, they’ve focused heavily on coding and programming, understanding that because it’s still foreign to most students, it peaks their curiosity while remaining a booming career field with tons of demand.

Early in 2020, Director Gillian Conley invited Jack Farrell to become Creative Encounters’ Lead STEM Instructor for their Game Design summer camp, hosting students in Grades 5 through 10. Jack has just finished a Bachelor of Science in Neuroscience at the University of Guelph. So that Spring, with almost no coding experience himself, he jumped at the chance to teach computer science. Enjoying diving right into the deep end, Jack immersed himself in something new, learning the basics of coding and game design through GameSalad, as his students soon would.

Rising to the Challenge

“I’ve played video games, but I’ve never made one.” An experienced camp counselor, Jack was really excited to work with kids again as their STEM Instructor.  His favorite part of working with youth is helping them foster an interest, then watching it take off.

As a scientist, it’s the coolest thing to see kids incorporate the idea that STEM can be creative, because I feel like STEM has the stigma that art is creative, STEM is logical. And that’s far from the truth.”

He says GameSalad web based creator provided a pathway to convey this idea for his virtual game design class.

Fun and Educational: Setting the Goal

“We like to dance the very fine line between fun and educational. And your platform definitely is that perfect mix as well,” Jack explains. He says GameSalad’s visual coding allows students to “spend less time on the nitty gritty of it and more time on the big concept things.” 

“When you’re teaching younger age groups, not having to worry about them misplacing a comma in their code is really beneficial for them. Being able to focus on the creative aspects and the bigger integration: all of the systems and their game working together.”

“That was the coolest part: to see them gain understanding and competence in coding as a whole.”

Transforming the Camp

“We always pride ourselves in delivering unique STEM content that you really can’t get anywhere else. With all the awesome resources that are on the Internet, we really try to differentiate ourselves in providing fantastic in-person camps,” Jack explains of Creative Encounters. So, their in-person camps became virtual live instruction. Rather than using GameSalad’s curriculum lessons, Jack and Co-Instructor Tyne designed their own. And they had a blast learning the Creator platform first.

"Definitely Not Homework"

Working together they structured an action-packed camp resulting in highly entertaining engagement. Jack and Tyne collaborated to create a 5-day crash-course in GameSalad. For the first 3 days, Jack and Tyne taught their campers how to build a new game each day. They spent the final two days helping their students create their own original games. 

Their live 1-Hour class was complemented by 2 hours of live office hours each afternoon, where they encouraged their campers to pop into video chat and ask questions. The team also provided their campers with a “Definitely Not Homework” package of coding activities in GameSalad to help focus their efforts throughout the day. On Friday afternoon, a final game-sharing session hosted on the GameSalad Arcade rounded out the week.

"They know we can see their code"

The instructors realized that helping campers stay on track during the live sessions would be key, and in this effort Tyne was tremendous in leveraging the GameSalad platform. She monitored campers’ work through the GameSalad Teacher Dashboard which allows teachers to port into their students’ projects and view or edit their code live, at the same time the student is also working in the account.

“No one wants to type in ‘I don’t get it,” Jack acknowledges the universal challenge for students and teachers everywhere. But with GameSalad,

“You don’t have to call anyone out. We had the opportunity to look at their code on our end and actually provide feedback based on exactly what we’re seeing in their code.”

Prior to GameSalad Web Platform, without a window into their work, students would have to copy/paste their code, send it to their teacher, the teacher has to run the program to find the bug, then relay that message back to the student. 

“Having those couple extra steps taken away by being able to see it firsthand was phenomenal,” says Jack.  “Tyne could be a proactive, rather than reactive, behind-the-scenes bug-fixer. That was an integral part of our success. And we can’t really do that on any other platforms.”

Creative Encounters also took full advantage of the collaborative aspect of this feature as they worked with their older campers who had some previous computer science experience. “They took to it a bit faster than everyone else did. So sometimes our office hours were helping them make some crazy, complicated game. To be able to literally work on it with them, say, hey, I’ll just change this box into that. Now try it, see if it runs.  That live compatibility really made it easy.” 

Versatility for Tiered Instruction

For Jack, students creating their own games was the best part because that’s when campers would ask their most creative questions. He “never felt the campers were going above the limits of what GameSalad could do.” That’s pretty awesome feedback for a camp hosting kids from grades 5 through 10 at the same time. 

“It was interesting to see how versatile your platform was from an age group standpoint. That was definitely a bit of a challenge as an instructor, because how you explain something to grade five is a bit different than grade ten. You kind of have to speak two different languages,” Jack explains. He says teaching with GameSalad was “definitely helpful” for his dynamic audience.

“It was easy enough for the younger kids to understand, and it had enough features and dexterity where the older campers could have their fun too.”

Some campers built upon the games they’d made in class. Jack found it “really, really interesting to see what each camper made.”

“Lots of campers did a totally new game, something based on a concept that we didn’t even cover.”

He also enjoyed hearing their interest peak once more on the final day, when campers shared the links to their games in the GameSalad Arcade and actually got to play each other’s creations. “They could talk to each other and ask, ‘hey, how did you code that robot to move like that?’ Or, ‘What gave you the idea to make this a part of your game?’ 

“I think my favorite part of utilizing your application is that there really is an element of art to game design, which really complimented well with all the coding the campers were doing. I feel like their favorite part and conclusion to making their own games, is that it really taught them you can be creative in such a logical field like STEM, and that creative application of STEM can be making their own really fun game.”

Student Feedback Signals Success

As summer camp game design students, the campers were very engaged with the concept of game creation from the start. Working with these highly motivated youth, Jack and Tyne noticed a lot of learning took place when campers were working on their own games. GameSalad turned out to be the right platform for continuing to foster the campers’ interest in coding, which Jack noticed through the questions campers brought them.

“At the start of every lesson, we regrouped from the previous day’s lesson. It was so cool to have a lot of questions about stuff that wasn’t just in that lesson.” Each time Jack thought, “Oh, they did it on their own time. They’re thinking critically about it beyond just ‘how I do the bare minimum’.” 

Jack and Tyne saw their vision for the outcomes of the virtual camp they designed realized when they received fantastic feedback from all of the campers. “It was really great to see lots of campers we had last summer be regular members of our after school clubs this school year. And I think I heard every one of them say multiple, multiple times, ‘So when are we going to code video games again?’ I think a lot of them are really excited to use your platform this summer and we’re really excited to teach on it once more.”

Along with their integral Co-Instructor Tyne and the wonderful team at Creative Encounters, Jack is gearing up for more summer camps in 2021 as Co-Director this year. They plan to implement GameSalad in their summer camps and in their CanCode clubs next school year.

Jack, Tyne, and the team at Creative Encounters with Science have found unique and creative ways to take advantage of the power of online game creation with GameSalad for Education. With lessons carefully tailored for online instruction they empowered their students to ask questions, gain confidence in their work, grow in curiosity, and engage their interest in STEM & STEAM.

To learn more about Creative Encounters with Science inspiring youth in STEM, visit

http://creativeencounters.info/