Ritu and I decided to do little experiment and set the young people in kalkaji school (7th graders and 8th graders), India and young people at Greenfield, UK (year 6 going into year 7) the same question and see what happens!
We were inspired by this great TED talk that Sugata shared with us about the human brain.
Ritu showed the video to her students and then set them away using the internet to answer the question. They then had a discussion about this (in Hindi) at the end to get a sense of what had been understood.
The 3 groups described many physical features of the brain and how it works. The brain is one of the largest and most complex organs in the human body.
“It is made up of more than 100 billion nerves that communicate in trillions of connections called synapses.”
“The human brain has the same general structure as the brains of other mammals, but has a more developed cortex than any other. Large animals such as whales and elephants have larger brains in absolute terms, but when measured using the encephalization quotient which compensates for body size, the human brain is almost twice as large as the brain of the bottlenose dolphin, and three times as large as the brain of a chimpanzee. Much of the expansion comes from the part of the brain called the cerebral cortex, especially the frontal lobes, which are associated with executive functions such as self-control, planning, reasoning, and abstract thought. The portion of the cerebral cortex devoted to vision is also greatly enlarged in human”
At Greenfield we decided to talk a little about how amazing humans are and how we may have different capacities to other animals. We asked the question “What makes our human brains different to others?” The group were left in Room 13 to decide how they wanted to work, which groups they would work in and how they wanted to explore the question. Some interesting discussions took place near the end of the session when we rejoined them for feedback.
They talked about qualities that we have as living creatures and that there are lots of common things but we are special as humans ( i probed a bit for an example) they said that we understand things and maybe other animals don’t. They said we are the only creatures that have language and as humans we can see better and hear better. The other groups disagreed and 1 boy said “what about bats though?” “they use sound to move about.” Another boy said “yeah and dogs bark so they have a language”. The group then discussed that we all have different languages but we can’t always communicate with other animals.
3 boys said we have ‘cognitive abilities.’ They told us that our brains weight 3 lbs and that is heavy compared to the size of our bodies and monkeys brains weighed 1/3rd less but their bodies are just about the same as ours. (at the end of their presentation the group discussed the size of the brain comparing it to a bag of flour.) One girl asked, “if our brains are bigger does that mean we are cleverer?” the group said no. They thought that the brains all worked in different ways so it wasn’t about size.
The boys said that we have language, self awareness and problem solving which makes our brains different.
The group described what self awareness is and how they think that is the main difference.
The boys talked about us evolving as humans and we are always learning things.
‘The difference between each other is we are born with different genes and our structures of our brains are different. We have life experience and different people around us which affects our brains and our family affect how we think. We can take things in and we have likes and dislikes which are all different.’
They talked about diseases and disabilities that can affect our brains.
(the group said that who you make friends with and what you do after school and what choices you make can affect what you learn and how your brain works. “you have to choose who your friends are carefully”)
‘Evolution has played a big part in how we work and why we are different. There are lots of physical difference so our brains have to work differently.’ They gave the example of a dog – ‘they walk on 4 legs we walk on 2.’ ‘Our brains have to be different for our own jobs.’
They showed us a picture of a dogs brain that they had drawn and a human brain they had drawn and pointed out 3 differences in the named parts of the brain.
Group 5 said that humans have a conscious. ‘We know the difference between right and wrong and make decisions about what to do, say and not say, others don’t do that. We might still say things without thinking but we can choose to think and change our action. We can think.’
This was an interesting little experiment and Ritu and I are going to look closely at the similarities and differences of the two groups and share information. We are looking forward to doing more work together across the world and have so many SOLE big questions ready to ask!