New, Novelty and Engagement

This is the third in a short series on student engagement. (1, 2)

Let me ask before we get started… 

When do you think is the time you will feel most engaged in this article?

For most people, it’s probably when you first heard of it or saw it

You made an action (such as clicking) wanting to know more

But as the article unfolds you will likely lose some of that excitement

Either that or the article will hold your attention and you will go from someone who didn’t know about the topic, to someone who has some knowledge and an interest.

This is the power of new. It is the gateway to interest

New and your brain

Novelty in particular can cop a bad wrap. Linked with clickbait headlines and cheap toys.

But it shouldn’t be overlooked or discarded, it’s a very important piece of the learning puzzle. 

By it’s very nature, it wakes us up from our typical and automatic routine

In Daniel Kahneman’s book ‘thinking fast and slow’, he talks of two thinking ‘systems’

System 1 is automatic thought

Think of how you got to work or school most days. It involves very little active thought.

System 2 is conscious thought

Think about a previous experience when you needed to:

  • Make a trip to somewhere new
  • Meet someone for the first time
  • Doing a puzzle you haven’t done before

System 2 is really what we are aiming for when it comes to learning 

We want students paying attention and ‘system 2’ thinking about things. 

In fact we don’t think kids are learning when they are in system 1. But that is a little unfair. System 2 is hard. It takes effort, will power and a conscious person (full stomach, feeling safe, no immediate issues, etc.).

This is where new shows its power. It’s like a hack. New can help activate system 2 just by the fact that it is new.

It can help provide that attention which is the gatekeeper of learning (Responsive Teaching?).

New vs novelty

Novelty takes new a little further. It’s doing something new that is unlike anything we have done or seen before.

“Novelty  is the quality of being new, or following from that, of being striking, original or unusual.”


Novelty is what really captures attention. 

It’s something we need to pay attention to because we don’t understand what it is or whether it is relevant to us.

New and novelty is the difference between a new car and a Tesla.

Why is new so important to us?

New things are more than a preference or even addiction, we have evolved around new things. 

New is ingrained in us

Wilfred Gallager in his book New: Understanding Our Need for Novelty and Change, talks about how we have evolved with change and the large part ‘new’ has played over humanities existence. 

According to him, us embracing new has even saved homosapiens from extinction.

Not only is it in our past, but new is in our everyday. New plays a part in our everyday lives with ‘the news’, social media updates, catching up with friends etc.

Wilfred also says that people sit in different places on the neophile (those who love new) and neophobe (those who don’t like new) spectrum.

But no matter where you or your cohort sits, you still have new ingrained in you. And you still pay attention to it when it is in front of you.

New in schools

Schools use new quite a bit:

  • New term
  • New semester
  • New year level
  • New topic
  • New subject
  • Camps
  • Excursions and incursions
  • Specialist rooms and areas

The woodwork room (and other technology areas) is certainly novel when it comes to schoolwork. It helps generate attention and interest from students.

None of these things are gimmicks, but they are a way to use new. 

Haven’t moved onto something newer yet?

I don’t have the answers. I am not an expert, just a teacher looking into what engages people (and students).

This article is simply to draw attention to new and it’s benefits in the classroom.

Have you got any thoughts on new? What do you do that’s new and novel? Let’s chat