Are Engineering and Robotics the New Cool?

stacks_image_11Bascomb, N. (2011). The new cool: A visionary teacher, his first robotics team, and the ultimate battle of smarts. New York: Crown Publishers.

Summary: The New Cool tells the story of high school teacher and MacArthur Genius Award winner Amir Abo-Shaeer as he mentors a “band of high-IQ students” training to compete in the FIRST Robotics Competition. Hailing from the small town of Goleta, California, these Dos Pueblos High School students challenge well-known teams from Silicon Valley, Massachusetts’ Route 128 technology corridor, and Michigan’s auto-design belt.

Quantitative Reading Level: Lexile Level Unavailable, ATOS Level 10.1, Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level 12

Qualitative Reading Level: This nonfiction book is structured in a chapter by chapter timeline to the FIRST Robotics Championship, which takes place in its final chapter. Each chapter outlines a period of study and training for the high school robotics team. The vocabulary is discipline-specific and may be outside of the experience of some adolescent readers. Although the book is nonfiction, the narrative aspect of the plot and the humanizing characterization of the students and their teacher makes the content more relatable. The author’s purpose—to showcase the innovative teaching of Abo-Shaeer—is clear and comprehensible, but this topic may only be of interest to a specific kind of reader.

Content Area: science (engineering and robotics)

Teaching Suggestion: Use this book as supplementary reading for high school science students. Discuss the science concepts the Dos Pueblos Robotics Team use to build the “ultimate robot.” Ask students to summarize the key concepts using discipline-specific vocabulary. One idea is to have students meet in “literature circle” groups periodically to discuss questions and common themes. A culminating activity could be having each literature circle group present their findings to the class. For more about using literature circles with science texts, check out this resource from Core Knowledge: Literature Circles for Social Studies and Science.

Digital Resources:

Next Generation Science Standards (Grades 9 – 12)

HS Forces and Interactions
Students who demonstrate understanding can:

HS-PS2-1.     Analyze data to support the claim that Newton’s second law of motion describes the mathematical relationship among the net force on a macroscopic object, its mass, and its acceleration. [Clarification Statement: Examples of data could include tables or graphs of position or velocity as a function of time for objects subject to a net unbalanced force, such as a falling object, an object rolling down a ramp, or a moving object being pulled by a constant force.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment is limited to one-dimensional motion and to macroscopic objects moving at non-relativistic speeds.]

HS-PS2-2.     Use mathematical representations to support the claim that the total momentum of a system of objects is conserved when there is no net force on the system. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on the quantitative conservation of momentum in interactions and the qualitative meaning of this principle.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment is limited to systems of two macroscopic bodies moving in one dimension.]

HS-PS2-3.     Apply scientific and engineering ideas to design, evaluate, and refine a device that minimizes the force on a macroscopic object during a collision.* [Clarification Statement: Examples of evaluation and refinement could include determining the success of the device at protecting an object from damage and modifying the design to improve it. Examples of a device could include a football helmet or a parachute.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment is limited to qualitative evaluations and/or algebraic manipulations.]

HS-PS2-4.     Use mathematical representations of Newton’s Law of Gravitation and Coulomb’s Law to describe and predict the gravitational and electrostatic forces between objects. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on both quantitative and conceptual descriptions of gravitational and electric fields.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment is limited to systems with two objects.]

HS-PS2-5.     Plan and conduct an investigation to provide evidence that an electric current can produce a magnetic field and that a changing magnetic field can produce an electric current. [Assessment Boundary: Assessment is limited to designing and conducting investigations with provided materials and tools.]

CCSS Literacy Standards for History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects (Grades 11-12)

Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts, attending to important distinctions the author makes and to any gaps or inconsistencies in the account.
Determine the central ideas or conclusions of a text; summarize complex concepts, processes, or information presented in a text by paraphrasing them in simpler but still accurate terms.

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