The New Cool by Neal Bascomb
A Visionary Teacher, His FIRST Robotics Team, and the Ultimate Battle of Smarts

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Synopsis

That Monday afternoon, in high-school gyms across America, kids were battling for the only glory American culture seems to want to dispense to the young these days: sports glory.  But at Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta, California, in a gear-cluttered classroom, a different type of “cool” was brewing.  A physics teacher with a dream – the first public high-school teacher ever to win a MacArthur Genius Award -- had rounded up a band of high-I.Q. students who wanted to put their technical know-how to work.  If you asked these brainiacs what the stakes were that first week of their project, they’d have told you it was all about winning a robotics competition – building the ultimate robot and prevailing in a machine-to-machine contest in front of 25,000 screaming fans at Atlanta’s Georgia Dome.
 
But for their mentor, Amir Abo-Shaeer, much more hung in the balance.
 
The fact was, Amir had in mind a different vision for education, one based not on rote learning -- on absorbing facts and figures -- but on active creation.  In his mind’s eye, he saw an even more robust academy within Dos Pueblos that would make science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) cool again, and he knew he was poised on the edge of making that dream a reality.  All he needed to get the necessary funding was one flashy win – a triumph that would firmly put his Engineering Academy at Dos Pueblos on the map.  He imagined that one day there would be a nation filled with such academies, and a new popular veneration for STEM – a “new cool” – that would return America to its former innovative glory.
 
It was a dream shared by Dean Kamen, a modern-day inventing wizard – often-called “the Edison of his time” – who’d concocted the very same FIRST Robotics Competition that had lured the kids at Dos Pueblos.  Kamen had created FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) nearly twenty years prior.  And now, with a participant alumni base approaching a million strong, he felt that awareness was about to hit critical mass. 
 
But before the Dos Pueblos D’Penguineers could do their part in bringing a new cool to America, they’d have to vanquish an intimidating lineup of “super-teams”– high-school technology goliaths that hailed from engineering hot spots such as Silicon Valley, Massachusetts’ Route 128 technology corridor, and Michigan’s auto-design belt.  Some of these teams were so good that winning wasn’t just hoped for every year, it was expected.
 
In The New Cool, Neal Bascomb manages to make even those who know little about – or are vaguely suspicious of – technology care passionately about a team of kids questing after a different kind of glory.  In these kids’ heartaches and headaches – and yes, high-five triumphs -- we glimpse the path not just to a new way of educating our youth but of honoring the crucial skills a society needs to prosper.  A new cool.

 

About Neal Bascomb

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NEAL BASCOMB is the critically acclaimed author of The Perfect Mile, a New York Times bestseller, Higher: A Historic Race to the Sky, and Red Mutiny: Eleven Fateful Days on the Battleship Potemkin, which won the U.S. Maritime Literature Award in 2007. A former editor and journalist, he has appeared in documentaries on A&E and the History Channel.
 
Published March 1, 2011 by Crown. 354 pages
Genres: Computers & Technology, Education & Reference, Professional & Technical. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for The New Cool

Kirkus Reviews

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Challenged by the $3,500 raw-material budget, the weight of strict deadlines (robots must be completed in six weeks) and stiff competition (1,686 teams participate), the group was buoyed by the team’s “SolidSeven,” specific students who were specially pretrained and adept at spatial relationships...

| Read Full Review of The New Cool: A Visionary Tea...

The Wall Street Journal

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The contest required building robots that would ally with others to collect 'moon rocks' on a slippery surface.

Mar 10 2011 | Read Full Review of The New Cool: A Visionary Tea...

Kirkus Reviews

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If FIRST can [embed in more] high schools across the country, it would be more sustainable [and have a greater impact on students.] The New Cool: A Visionary Teacher, His FIRST Robotics Teams, and the Ultimate Battle of Smarts Neal Bascomb Crown / March 1, 2011 / 9780307588890 / $25.00

Mar 01 2011 | Read Full Review of The New Cool: A Visionary Tea...

Christian Science Monitor

It’s the kind of story we want to get behind: a group of diverse high schoolers led by a tough but caring mentor, face a challenge for which none of them are prepared.

Mar 02 2011 | Read Full Review of The New Cool: A Visionary Tea...

Review (Barnes & Noble)

And at another instance, we can pull back for the long view: "The real purpose of this experience was to show them the kind of focus and hard struggle that it took to create something extraordinary.

May 09 2011 | Read Full Review of The New Cool: A Visionary Tea...

Bookmarks Magazine

He imagined that one day there would be a nation filled with such academies, and a new popular veneration for STEM – a “new cool” – that would return America to its former innovative glory.

It was a dream shared by Dean Kamen, a modern-day inventing wizard – often-called “the Ediso...

Mar 06 2011 | Read Full Review of The New Cool: A Visionary Tea...

Wired

... There are four different competitions, including Jr. FIRST LEGO ... In a nutshell, this book is about the hard work, the sweat and the tears, the ...

May 05 2011 | Read Full Review of The New Cool: A Visionary Tea...

Science News

With seconds on the clock, a nervous high school senior named Kevin lines up the shot.

Apr 22 2011 | Read Full Review of The New Cool: A Visionary Tea...

Reader Rating for The New Cool
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