The social brain and the curriculum

From Antidote e-newsletter 24.03.2010

In a recent parliamentary debate , Shadow schools minister Nick Gibb expressed the view that ‘the mind is developed by learning and understanding more and more concepts, by remembering more and more pieces of information and by developing knowledge.’

This viewpoint was challenged at a recent RSA seminar based around recent neuro-scientific research, which highlighted the importance of keeping the social in mind when thinking about the curriculum, and giving students opportunities to learn to work together with others.

Professor Chris Frith, from the Wellcome Trust, suggested that we must move away from the dominant definition of rationality as maximising individual gains. The brain is essentially social and cooperative, and group problem-solving yields better results than that by the best individual. This should impact on curriculum planning.

Matt Grist, director of the RSA Social Brain project, pointed to the plasticity of the brain – abilities must be practiced to be learned. Complex, real-world tasks require cooperation and creativity, and children need more of these in the classroom in order to learn crucial life skills.

Most group work in schools, though, is ineffectual, said Neil Mercer, Professor of Education at the University of Cambridge. Children do not know how to use their social brains, and must be taught to ‘interthink’.

Find out more about the RSA curriculum and the social brain project here…

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