Outschool Engineer Sam Calvert on Tapping into Passion to Inspire Learning

Nov 20, 2019
Sam Calvert, an engineer for Outschool, believes passion-led learning has played a huge factor in his career success thus far.

It started with a paper planner.

A calendar, bound by plastic spirals, filled with sheets of paper. When a teacher plopped one of these on Sam Calvert’s desk, he thought, there must be a better way.

Sam, now an Engineer for Outschool, did more than just think, though. He decided to build. And even though he was only in high school, he and his friend Nick set off to build an online version of the planners students at his school were using to keep tracking of homework and important dates.

A software-based planner, they thought, would allow teachers to post assignments, homework, and test reminders online for students to view from their computers. This would require Sam to learn much more about his fledgling interest: computer programming.

Like many early attempts at learning something new, there were stops and starts.

“We ended up iterating and completely throwing out our code base, and rewriting it four times over a year and a half,” Sam said about the project. Later in high school, Sam also built a new website for his school’s journalism program to publish articles.

Keep in mind that Sam wasn’t paid for any of these projects. He also completed them while still enrolled in high school as a full-time student. However, none of this work was assigned by his high school teachers.

It was Sam’s own curiosity and passion for learning to code that led him to put in the hours of study and work required to turn his ideas into reality.

Skip homework to learn about computers

When you imagine a teenager with the motivation to learn computer programming on his own time, you might assume that Sam was a model student in his traditional school.

This is not exactly the case. And the truth about Sam’s experience in school helps to illustrate a frustration shared by many kids who have passions and interests that might be better fostered through a self-directed approach to learning.

“I was very divisive amongst my teachers. They tended to either like me or dislike me,” Sam said. Sam's curious nature led him to challenge teachers’ ideas, read ahead in the textbook, and otherwise avoid the behaviors of a “model” student, as he described it.

I could pass my tests, and that meant I could get my parents off my back, so I could skip homework and learn about computers after school.

However, his intelligence gave him just enough breathing room to continue pursuing his true love, coding, after the school day ended.

“I could pass my tests, and that meant I could get my parents off my back, so I could skip homework and learn about computers after school,” Sam said. “I had incredibly more vigor and energy for the things that I was interested in.”

Learning to code was slow going

Although the motivation and curiosity that drove Sam to learn to code without the help of teachers or classes was important, he also faced challenges because of his independent approach.

“When I was starting to learn to code, it was a lot slower going because I didn't have a lot of direction outside of books I had picked up or articles I had read online,” Sam said.

These resources would lead Sam a certain percentage of the way towards solving the problems he faced while building his early projects. His own desire to figure things out led him the rest of the way. This caused a lot of learning, but also a lot of extra work.

Reflecting back, he can see the difference between high quality programming that follows best practices, and the self-made path he carved for himself in those early days.

“I spent a lot of time building things that didn't work well or that weren't perfect,” Sam said. “The passion and motivation pushed me to iterate on those things to make them more and more perfect and to learn something along the way.”

Today, studying isn’t a chore

In Sam’s current role as an Engineer at Outschool, he gladly works to keep up with new frameworks and technologies that help him thrive in his role building new features for Outschool users.

He doesn’t consider this “a chore,” though because he has an innate interest and motivation to learn more about programming computers. “It's actually something I'd be doing myself anyway, which is nice,” Sam said.

Leveraging passion is such a good idea because ultimately learning still requires a lot of work.

When Sam considers his education and career path, and why he’s had success, he sees the value of less traditional educational journeys.

“Leveraging passion is such a good idea because ultimately learning still requires a lot of work,” Sam said. “That's where I see the merits of unschooling and allowing people to pursue things that they're interested in to leverage passion as motivation to actually go out and learn stuff.”

Why Sam is excited by Outschool

Sam has a theory that there is a lot more potential in the world that could be untapped by more access to passion-driven education experiences.

“I have a feeling that there are people who would be really interested in a lot of things, and they just need access to the information in order to realize that potential,” Sam said.

He credits the access to those early books and articles about learning to code for the success he had in learning. And this is part of the reason Sam is excited by Outschool, which gives more young learners access to learning materials and experiences that align with their passions.

“If I didn't have access, if I didn't have the resources that I did, I'm not sure that my interest would develop as far as it has.” Sam said.

With Outschool, Sam sees an opportunity to provide access to learning experiences that relate to many different passions, including but not limited to learning to code.

“Giving people more resources to follow their passions will allow them to develop those passions in ways that might actually be incredibly productive to their community or to their society.”

It’s inspiring to imagine what future learners will go on to do if they’ll take Sam’s advice, and let their learning be led by their passion.

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Gerard Dawson

Gerard Dawson is a teacher, parent and writer for Outschool.