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The New Cool: A Visionary Teacher, His FIRST Robotics Team, and the Ultimate Battle of Smarts Hardcover – March 1, 2011

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Editorial Reviews Review

Guest Reviewer: Erin Gruwell

Erin Gruwell’s reputation as an education change agent runs deep. So deep that her story attracted Hollywood's attention. In January 2007, Paramount Pictures released “Freedom Writers,” starring Hilary Swank as Erin. The film is based on The Freedom Writers Diary, the New York Times bestseller that chronicles Erin's extraordinary journey with 150 high school students who have been written off by the education system. Erin and the Freedom Writers founded the Freedom Writers Foundation, which has trained hundreds of teachers in North America and around the world. More recently, Erin and Freedom Writer Teachers published Teaching Hope, which tells uplifting, devastating, and poignant stories from their classrooms--stories that provide insight into the struggles and triumphs of education in all of its forms.

The New Cool is an excellent example of how a passionate teacher can truly engage his students to dispel social stereotypes, overcome adversity and become cool in a climate that is now cheering for academic overachievers. With a group of eclectic characters more likely to despise each other than get along, Amir Abo-Shaeer encouraged the teamwork, empowerment, and admiration that all students should experience. As readers, we take the fateful journey with Amir’s students--31 high school seniors, known as "The D'Penguineers”--as they find a way to bring specific talents to their project and create an award-winning team against all odds.

Knowing that most students in high school care more about the Paris Hiltons of the world than the Dean Kamens, Amir Abo-Shaeer entered his first year of teaching with the idea of changing his students’ minds about what is cool. He developed the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy to show students the benefits of actually experiencing their education rather than just being talked at like a teacher from a Charlie Brown special, which sounds like “waa waa waa waa.” But despite the fact that his academy garnered so much attention that students were transferring to a school once on the brink of closing its doors, Amir and his hardworking students were not given adequate facilities to create a robot for the FIRST competition. Their gripping tale of having to build the most advanced robot at a nationwide competition while attempting to work together despite their obvious differences kept me flipping every page. Neal Bascomb shows the reader every angle of a classroom no larger than the average storage space, bursting with tensions, emotions, and unparalleled enthusiasm. Anyone who claims the upcoming generation has less to offer than its predecessors has not heard about “The D’Penguineers.”

As an English teacher who reveled in the transformation of my own students, the Freedom Writers, I celebrated these students' success. The New Cool is a tale of triumph both in and outside of the classroom, and featuring as it does tenacious teachers like Amir Abo-Shaeer, the book gives me hope for the future of education.

From Booklist

When Dean Kamen, a millionaire inventor, realized that most kids couldn�t name a living scientist, he created the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition to encourage high-school students to consider scientific careers. Bascomb follows team 1717, the D�Penguineers, from Goleta, California, during the 2009 season. The team of high-school seniors, all rookie robot builders, is led by Amir Abo-Shaeer, a physics teacher and the founder of a fledgling engineering academy. The actual game play and strategy sessions during competitions are undisputedly exciting, but a large chunk of the book is devoted to the six-week robot-building period. Bascomb gamely explains the rules of play and how they apply to construction, but this section may leave readers a bit bored, especially those unfamiliar with the topic. The book�s movie rights have been snapped up and with good reason: there�s a Bad News Bears story here longing to break free�a team seemingly divided against itself is pushed to greatness by a visionary leader with an unending stream of life lessons to dispense. An unabashedly feel-good story (once the robot gets built). --Courtney Jones

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 337 pages
  • Publisher: Crown Publishers; 1st edition (March 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307588890
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307588890
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #627,023 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

NEAL BASCOMB is the national award-winning and New York Times bestselling author of Hunting Eichmann, The Perfect Mile, Higher, Nazi Hunters, and Red Mutiny. A former international journalist, he is a widely recognized speaker on the subject of World War II and has appeared in a number of documentaries. He lives in Seattle, Washington.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Tyler Roussos on March 1, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I've participated in FIRST Robotics. I've been a part of the program for 7 years, 4 as a student and the past 3 as a mentor. During all of my time in the program, I've never been able to find something that has been able to capture the essence of FIRST. Something that is able to express the long nights, grueling machining, and endless problem solving. I have never found this atmosphere anywhere else in my life except in FIRST. The New Cool is able to capture the mood of a competition, the hurried scramble at the end of a build, and the pressure that each driver is fighting while piloting their robot around the playing field.

The New Cool details Amir and his rookie team in the FIRST Robotics competition Lunacy. Lunacy presented the team with several difficult obstacles which they needed to engineer reliable and efficient solutions to overcome. The change in the field base and the obscurely shaped game pieces were just two of the obstacles that teams were faced with.

Having competed in Lunacy, I can attest that it was one of the more difficult games FIRST has presented to teams. It changed many commonly known variables in the game and made designing an effective robot incredibly difficult. It was exciting to see the solutions that Amir and his team were able to both think of and implement, as they demonstrated both the creativity and drive of the team.

This novel, even for nontechnical people, presents an inspiring account of a remarkable group of students and their mentor. It's a great read that gives me reassurance that our future engineers and scientist will be able to take care of us.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By David Ruud on March 17, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Although I previously had no experience or particular interest in robotics or science competitions, I do now. Neal Bascomb really made the story come to life and made me truly care about the progress of the students and their mentors as they went through the competition season.

This book highlights the societal importance of inspiring the next generation of engineers and scientists and shows how dedicated, passionate educators can make a long-lasting impact on our advancement. It is comforting to know that there are teachers and students out there like those represented in this book. They are "cool" to me.

To top it off, it was really exciting and fun to read. Like all of Neal Bascomb's books, he makes the story alive, suspenseful, educational, and ultimately very enjoyable.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Mark J. Warschauer on March 1, 2011
Format: Hardcover
"21st Century Learning" is one of the buzzwords of educational reform. Yet Amir Abo-Shaeer and his Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy embody what true 21st century learning should look like. Robotics is usually taught in after-school clubs or private organizations, leaving its benefits to be enjoyed by a privileged few. Abo-Shaeer integrates robotics into the curriculum of his innovative engineering academy, transforming the learning experiences of youths in ways that are difficult to imagine. Fortunately, Neal Bascomb does a brilliant job of showing us exactly what that transformation looks like. The New Cool is a must read for all those interested in what teaching, learning, and schooling should become--and can become with visionary leadership.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Jeanne Boyarsky on April 10, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Reading this book the month of the 2011 FIRST championships was good timing. I liked the organization of the book according to the time of the season. I liked reading about how the team became a powerhouse with a partially rookie team. (The teacher and mentors weren't new to FIRST.) I liked the description of the students and how they grew over the season along with the physical environment. I liked how the author introduced the reader to technical concepts in passing. I liked the focus on one team with interludes on others.

I think the book could have used a glossary of the technical words (like potentiometer) and not just the FIRST game words. If someone hasn't been exposed to the word before, it is easy to forget what "pot" stands for let alone what potentiometer means. I would have loved to see some pictures in the book. The only picture I saw was in the glossary - of the game field. Sharing this and including a picture of the environment would make it easier to visualize. Same for the Championship; it's hard to picture the scale for someone not involved with FIRST. I've described both a regional and robot to people and then they come and are shocked at how large everything is. I've never been to a Championship, but I'm sure I can't imagine that.

My only other complaint, is one I had about a math movie many years ago. By focusing on an extreme case, it makes it look like FIRST Robotics Competition is almost unattainable without working overnight and pushing to the physical breaking point. This is unhealthy and not something people thinking of starting a team should be worried about. Many teams do just fine without overnight sessions.

Overall, I did enjoy the book and think it is a great story.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Chris S. on March 3, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
FIRST I would like to say this is the first leisure book I have read since being at college for a year and a half and it is nice and relaxing to do so.

Also this book, for what I have read, has been very well written and I can see it being a good read for those that do not know what FIRST is about but also makes a connection to those who have been involved with FIRST. What I like about this book even more is that it goes over the 2009 season which was also my senior year in high school and my last year of involvement as a student in FRC.

I have not wanted to set it down but I have had to to get some sleep and to read the other not so fun books for my classes.

If you haven't gotten it yet, GET IT! Granted I don't know how it ends but if its at all like the beginning it will be a great read and end fantastic with you jumping out of your seat thinking that you just were involved with what the book is all about.
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