Over the course of four books bestselling non-fiction author Neal Bascomb has written about some of history’s most exciting stories, from the capture of Nazi fugitive Adolf Eichmann to the infamous mutiny aboard the Russian battleship Potemkin. In his fifth and most recent book, The New Cool, the award-winning author captures a look at history in the making: the FIRST Robotics Competition.
Founded in 1989 by businessman Dean Kamen and physicist Woodie Flowers, the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition (FRC)was started as a way of promoting interest in science education. Over the years, teams of high schoolers representing nations across the globe have participated, pitting robots of their own design in contests testing skill and technical know-how.
Just designing and fielding a robot is an enormous challenge in itself, and making it to the finals takes a lot of skill and discipline. The New Cool follows one team of students (Team 1717, Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy) and their teacher as they build their robot and enter the competition. The tale is one of high technology, youthful ingenuity and the sparks that fly when they meet under the leadership of teacher Amir Abo-Shaeer, Team 1717’s instructor.
Abo-Shaeer is the first high school teacher to have won a MacArthur Fellowship (commonly known as the MacArthur Genius Grant), and is not only an instructor at Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy, he’s also its founder. Bascomb brings the same kind of excitement and spirit to the tale of the Dos Pueblos robot builders and their teachers as other writers bring to stories of legendary sports teams and their coaches. The story of this brilliant teacher and his technologically-minded students will bring renewed optimism to readers all too accustomed to bad news about the American education system. Amir Abo-Shaeer and Team 1717 are proof that “smart” is indeed the new cool.