Learning to code and honing his programming skills outside of the classroom led Sam Hooper to serve his community as a leader, role model, tutor, and developer of educational software, all through high school.
The 18-year-old senior from the School for the Talented and Gifted (TAG) teaches programming to classmates, developed an app that helps students in grades three to eight review math concepts and became a coder acclaim, securing first place in the UIL State Championship for two consecutive years.
“I learned a lot of things that I wanted to learn and also taught a lot of the class,” Sam said. “I think if I wasn’t in this program, I wouldn’t have never knew computer science and never would have known it’s something I really want to do.”
Last year, the TAG Computer Science (CS) club, which Sam leads as president, had the highest score in the programming session (the team portion of the contest) – and Sam got the score highest in the written test (the individual part) – at the 2021 UIL CS State Meet. The team qualified for the state competition, once again this year, and sent four representatives to compete in the University of Texas at Austin on May 7. Once again, the TAG CS club took gold by winning 1st place in the programming session and Sam took 1st place in the written test. This year, TAG students Dat Tran and Vedant Tapiavala tied for third place on the written test portion.
“The All-Around tests are professionally written and approved, and Sam found an error on this year’s test,” said Travis Burton, TAG CS teacher and club coach. “While checking out, Sam found a question where he was convinced he was right. He went to plead his case, pulled out a multi-page Java spec document, and found two sentences about the whole thing that proved he The contest directors made the correction and said they were impressed, not so much because he was able to point out the error, but because he handled the situation with politeness and respect.
A passion for sharing knowledge
Since March, Sam has worked at the tutoring agency Gideon Math and Reading in Garland, where he helps high school students with algebra, geometry and pre-calculus. When he’s not working or studying, he prepares computer lessons to share with his fellow TAG CS club members. About 12 students meet every Tuesday in the Burton classroom, where Sam regularly leads a class to teach his peers new concepts and practice programming skills that can benefit them in UIL competitions.
“Usually I would instruct the team, but sometimes I get pulled out for different things. And when that happens, I ask the students to review certain topics and have them teach each other,” Burton said. “What Sam wanted to do was teach everything. And because he was a state champion, I gave him a chance. He came up with really great lesson plans and great presentations, offered to very good hacker problems for students to solve, kept them engaged and taught them useful things.
Some of the CS classes offered by TAG include Pre-AP and AP CS, Data Structures, Independent Study, Game Programming, and Data Electronics. The Pre-AP CS course, required for all ninth grade TAG students, sparked a passion in Sam that took him beyond learning to write complex code.
Shortly after taking the introductory course, Sam began to learn programming at his own pace. As a junior, he coded his first two personal programs: his own version of a Minesweeper application and a customizable chess program. As a senior, he and classmate Ayuj Verma developed a math practice app, which won first place for Texas Congressional District 30 in 2021. Congressional Applications Challenge.
Ayuj and Sam’s app, called Relearn, generates random math problems from 30 different topics ranging in difficulty from third to eighth grade, such as basic addition, adding fractions, unit conversions, mixed numbers, decimals, order of operations, etc. The app, designed to help students practice math easily, provides customization for the topics a student wants to work on, and provides statistics on student performance.
“I would like to be a software developer in the future and I would love to do some programming for a big tech company,” Sam said. “Working on Relearn I realized the possibilities are endless and that one day I might create software that can help people learn new things or help people study and practice.”
In the fall of 2022, Sam will attend the University of Texas at Austin, where he has been accepted into the Turing Scholars program for outstanding computer science undergraduates.