How the COVID-19 Pandemic Reignited My Son’s Love for Learning

Insights   28 October 2020
By Sonn Sam, Ed. D, Big Picture Learning


…If we challenge ourselves to wonder what learning might be occurring as our kids navigate these online worlds, we come to a strikingly different conclusion.

Sonn Sam
Regional Director-South, Big Picture Learning

My son Masson hates school. Mind you, he is a straight-A student. But, this is a young man who has learned the system: “Tell me how to get the A and leave me alone.” He has no deep longing for internalizing knowledge or skills or for understanding how they connect to his future. Every time I attempt to have the “how was school?” conversation when I swing by to pick him up, he responds, “School sucked, dad. Why do you keep asking me?”

As an education reformer, you couldn’t find a bigger dagger to pierce my heart with. Here I am every day working to help schools recognize, honor, and cultivate the genius in every student, and the same system I am trying to reform is killing my son’s love for learning. As painful as this is to see in my own son, it’s important to note, this isn’t just a “school” problem. This is a system problem.

That system took a hard hit this March, which gave way to an unexpected opening for Masson. When he had to transition to remote learning, he still held school in the context of “winning the game.” And now, he had an enormous advantage—he could do everything at his own pace.

Each day, Masson was completing all of his assignments by 10am. Once the assignments were completed, he had all day to do whatever he wanted. Before the pandemic, the regular school schedule, lacrosse practice and games, homework, and chores left Masson with little free time during the week. Now, with this newfound free time, he could do something he always wanted to do—gaming.

Joining the 350 million registered players around the world, Masson gladly fell into the vacuum of Fortnite—a role playing game (RPG) where you are dropped into a world with 100 other players and you have exactly one hour to be the last person standing. 


A large point I wanted to drive home was I didn’t want him to only be a consumer in his life but also look for opportunities to be a creator.

Sonn Sam
Regional Director-South, Big Picture Learning

In trying to connect with my son and his passion, I played Fortnite a few times, and I immediately saw how addicting the game can be. Friends can join in and play together virtually from anywhere in the world; the time limit forces urgency; the pace of the game is fast; and the game play is fun, yet highly sophisticated. There is a ton of strategy involved. 

After watching my son play games for hours on end and watching him watch other players’ games on YouTube when he reached his time limit, I had some frank conversations with Masson about gaming and finding balance. A large point I wanted to drive home was I didn’t want him to only be a consumer in his life but also look for opportunities to be a creator.

After this conversation, it was Masson who said to me that he wanted to be a streamer. I said, “Cool! However I can support you, just let me know.” 

He quickly sprang into action. He discovered most streamers used a platform called Twitch where they stream their own gameplay on their own channels—just like a YouTube star can upload pre-recorded videos or go live on their channels. He also learned that if he can grow a significant following, he could make some money on the platform. 

Next thing I knew, he was sending me the contract from Twitch—I read it and signed it. Masson was off and running.

In order to produce high quality content, he needed high quality (i.e. expensive) equipment. Mom and dad certainly didn’t have the budget to buy this equipment for him, so after one quick tutorial from mom about how to use eBay, Masson began selling his own belongings and random, unused things around the house. He learned the intricacies of product placement, descriptions, hashtags, and the bidding process. He got pretty good, pretty quickly. So good in fact that I needed to step in a few times because he started selling my stuff. But on his own, he turned his used items into revenue to buy everything he needed to support his passion.


Seeing my son pursue his passion and develop his skills on his own terms is what I’ve always wanted for him.

Sonn Sam
Regional Director-South, Big Picture Learning

There are important lessons about Masson’s story that any parent or educator can draw from. First and foremost, it’s easy for adults to demonize gaming and see it as a complete waste of time. But, if we challenge ourselves to wonder what learning might be occurring as our kids navigate these online worlds, we come to a strikingly different conclusion.

With his newfound time, Masson began building collective knowledge and social capital. He reached out to his network of friends, and they all shared their knowledge and lessons of becoming a content creator and streamer. They connected throughout the day, on- and offline, sharing what they had learned through their own experience; collaborating on problems they were all experiencing; and giving each other advice on how to create better content, how to market their page, and how to engage with new audiences.

After maximizing their collective knowledge, they researched the top influencers in streaming (e.g. NRG Clix and @wild4games for those “in-the-know”), watched their YouTube tutorials, and reached out to them directly to engage in real-time troubleshooting. They were fine tuning their skills to meet industry standards and consumer expectations. 

During this journey, Masson has been developing the following skills, organized by the Learning Goals we adhere to at Big Picture Learning:

  • Communication
    • Reading, writing, and speaking amongst his friends and industry experts on how to be a successful streamer
    • Exchanging in peer and professional feedback cycles to build higher quality content he then shares with the world
  • Quantitative Reasoning
    • Website design and setup
    • Managing a budget for setting up his website
    • Managing time and understanding efficiency of time, productivity, and production
    • Developing formulas for peak consumer engagement
    • Studying consumer patterns/trends and how to maximize engagement
    • Cost analysis and budgeting to build his own gaming PC
  • Social Reasoning
    • Building and engaging with varying communities of interest and expertise
    • Studying the evolution and changes of streaming over time
    • Researching and understanding consumer behavior
  • Empirical Reasoning
    • Engaging in the design thinking process as he learns how to build his own website and create high quality content
    • Testing out his strategies, reflecting, and make adjustments in real time
    • Understanding consumer data and how to maximize engagement
    • Building his own gaming PC
  • Personal Qualities
    • Entrepreneurship, time management, perseverance, organization, leadership and self awareness

Although not explicitly in our Learning Goals, Masson has also developed a whole host of entrepreneurship, business, technology, and marketing skills. 

Masson’s journey has been the silver lining for me during this bleak time. Seeing my son pursue his passion and develop his skills on his own terms is what I’ve always wanted for him. I have never seen my son so excited, alive, and thriving. 

The not-so-silver lining is his school has no idea and no interest in valuing, investigating, and, dare I suggest, crediting anything he’s learning. Talk about a missed opportunity. Good thing he has a dad who is an education reformer and who talks to him too much about what and how he’s pursuing his passions and developing his skills.

I’ve been in this work for 17 years and counting, and I know we still have a long way to go before we’ll see real change in our education system. But, thanks to my son, I have just one more reason to keep fighting.

Click here for Masson’s video as he describes everything he purchased and built to support his passion.

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