Robotics has all the elements of education that everybody loves—problem-solving, team-work, hands-on learning, and mastery of technology, all in the service of authentic projects. Unfortunately, robotics is typically offered on an extra-curricular basis, and thus available only to small numbers of students in places where there happen to be either volunteer teachers or commercial classes.
Amir Abo-Shaeer, a high school engineering teacher in California, approached robotics in a different way—not as an “extra,” but as a key element of curricular transformation. He has integrated student participation in a year-long robotics competition as part of a remarkable interdisciplinary public school program in the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy he founded.
I interviewed Abo-Shaeer extensively in relationship to a new book I’m writing on digital media and learning that will appear this fall. I believe his approach—of integrating hands-on project based learning with a very rigorous and demanding curriculum—is the exact philosophy needed for transforming our schools. In the book, I will discuss the particular challenges that he has faced in redesigning a California high school curriculum in the face of standardized testing demands and other possible hurdles and how he creatively overcame them–and what lessons that has for broader educational reform with technology.
In the meantime, though, for those wanting an in-depth look at the experiences of Abo-Shaeer and his students, there is a terrific book just released called The New Cool. Journalist Neal Bascomb set off to cover three robotics teams and write a book about the experiences of the students. However, mid-way through his research, he decided that the story of Abo-Shaeer and his students was so compelling that that story should become the centerpiece of his book. Bascomb brings to life the experiences of Abo-Shaeer and his robotics team in fascinating detail. For those who are interested in what passionate educational reform can mean for transforming the lives of youths and helping them realize their full potential, The New Cool is a must read.