Science is an amazing, intricate, intuitive topic that, unfortunately, many students despise. When I tell people that I plan on being a biology teacher, a common response I get is, “Wow, good for you. I seriously hated science in high school! It just made no sense to me!” As a science enthusiast, I see this response as a challenge to make my future classes exciting, understandable, and relatable. Therefore, I am constantly on the lookout for scientific resources that remind me why I have a passion for the subject, and could be used to instill this same passion in my students.
The Ted talk I watched this week, Suzana Herclano-Herzel’s “What is so special about the human brain?” rejuvenates my love for scientific thought and innovation, and will hopefully spark a flame of understanding of and excitement for the subject in my future students. Herclano-Herzel, a neuroscientist, was driven to study the human brain because of inconsistencies in the development and complexity of the human brain compared to the brains of other life forms. Basically, for the number of neurons our brain has and for the amount of energy it requires to properly function, the human brain is incredibly small. In comparison, if a rodent had as many neurons in its brain as a human does, that rodent would have to be roughly the size of a blue whale to support its massive brain (a kind of terrifying thought– giant rats roaming the wild, looking for prey). So, while Suzana Herclano-Herzel definitely decided that humans have better brains than rodents, more research was necessary to discover the “why” and “how” behind the unique development of the human brain.
Herclano-Herzel’s conclusions in her study of the human brain reinforced basic scientific concepts, and were so simple, they were revolutionary. The neuroscientist compared a human brain to a monkey brain, and found that neural development, proportional to size, was identical in the two brains. Evidence, compounding on hundreds of years of observation and experimentation, that supports the evolutionary theory! So, if monkeys have similar cognitive development to humans, and many species of the animal are larger than humans and therefore possess larger brains, why hasn’t Planet of the Apes become a reality? The answer to this question is so basic, it’s almost intuitive. To support the energy that their brains require to function, monkeys must eat an average of eight hours a day, as they only consume raw food. Humans, to support our cognitive function, should need to eat nine hours a day, but (most of us) don’t do that. Why?
Because, we, as humans, cook our food, therefore increasing the energy available in our food and reducing the overall time we need to eat to support brain function. And we are the only animal that does this.
I imagine that my future students would have the same response to this Ted talk to that I did: jaw-dropping awe at the complex simplicity of Herlano-Herzel’s experimentation and conclusions. If they don’t, I’ll take it as a sign that I’m failing in my job as a teacher. This video meets the requirements of Olivia Cucinotta’s article, “How teachers can best use TED talks in class, from the perspective of a student,” because it has the potential to provoke personal thought, intelligent group conversation, and individual research, three activities I hope become the norm in my classroom. I may not be able to instill a love for science in all my students, but I want them all to understand it, and appreciate how advancements in scientific innovation make our society smarter and more productive.
I encourage all my readers to watching this TED talk, because my summary is based on memory of what I watched yesterday and may not be completely accurate. Plus, science is cool, and I want you all to believe that.