Friday, May 20, 2011

The New Cool meets Reality is Broken

In my last post, I raved about the book as well as the individuals featured in The New Cool. At the end of the post, I offered a glimpse ahead at this post. My goal here is to shed some light on the motivation behind the insanely long hours and the back-breaking, brain-bending work exhibited by the kids (and teacher) in The New Cool. I must point out, though, that the same level of intense work can be found on fields and on stages across the country, if you know where to look and when. You see, kids will work ridiculously hard for the right people at the right times. The trick is knowing what makes kids tick. And when you have kids involved in a major project like building a FIRST robot, chasing a state championship in athletics or putting on an amazing Broadway-style performance, knowing why kids would be willing to subject themselves to rigorous and demanding situations makes all the difference.

Video game designer and author Jane McGonigal has it figured out. Her speaking and writing addresses why gaming is so important and how it could change the world. However, she has articulated something pretty special that educators must understand. In explaining why gaming is such a phenomenon, she isolates four main ideas. These ideas are listed below; they are taken initially from her presentation at TED but then explained using her words from Reality is Broken:

Satisfying Work or Blissful Productivity

“Blissful productivity is the sense of being deeply immersed in work that produces immediate and obvious results. (p. 49) Satisfying work always starts with two things: a clear goal and actionable next steps. (p. 55) But to truly be satisfied, we have to be able to finish our work as clearly as we started it. To finish work in a satisfying way, we must be able to see the results of our efforts as directly, immediately, and as vividly as possible.”

The Experience (or at least the hope) of Being Successful or Urgent Optimism

“We want to feel powerful in our own lives and show off to others what we’re good at. We want to be optimistic about our own chances for success, to aspire to something, and to feel like we’re getting better over time.” (p. 49)

Social Connection or Social Fabric

“We want to share experiences and build bonds, and we most often accomplish that by doing things that matter together.” (p. 49)

Meaning or Epic Meaning

“We want to feel curiosity, awe, and wonder about things that unfold on epic scales. And most importantly, we want to belong to and contribute to something that has lasting beyond our own individual lives.”

If you get what McGonigal is saying, it no longer should be difficult to understand why the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy team spent so much time and energy working to create a robot. Imagine if all our classroom teachers applied these concepts not only to projects but also to daily work/homework in their classrooms. Coaches and directors know these concepts and use them every year in order to be successful. The best teachers know these concepts and apply them often to keep their kids engaged. If only more teachers knew these ideas and applied them in their classrooms.

Though McGonigal doesn't address education and the classroom, I would encourage you to take twenty minutes to watch her presentation at TED and see how you might incorporate some of her ideas in your classroom or school. Additionally, I recommend you read Reality is Broken and visit the Reality is Broken website.

Images above taken from

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