I'm not sure how this notion survives so far into the 21st Century, since scientists have found ways to map human brain activities through magnetic resonance imaging. Nevertheless, based on this false assumption, we have credited savants and mediums alike with perhaps tapping into some extra percentage of their minds. So it turns out that we are maxing out our noggins. Our three-pound brains became what they are roughly 10,000 years ago. Imagine a Neanderthal driving an automobile, talking on a cell-phone, or playing an X-Box, and you are imagining a "modern" human as well. Prehistoric people tapped into 100% of their brainpower, and so do we. We have more tools and more advanced communication, but I would submit that these resources neither detract from nor add to our brain usage. We are at our individual limit. That is why it is essential to collaborate, and to provide opportunities for students to collaborate effectively.
True collaboration is synergistic and produces a different result - different questions, ideas, and plans - than isolated work. Note that I didn't say "a better result;" I said "different." Three people using 100% of their intellect do not make 300%, but with diverse memories, experiences, attitudes, and skills, they can develop a fourth and better idea that each of the three may not have turned out. With the right measure of respect, willingness to help, and productive brainstorming, a balanced team is a powerful way to get more out of our collective brains.In many ways, our schools emphasize individual and competitive effort over collaboration. Both learning tactics have their places, and as with most pedagogies there is an equilibrium to consider. For example, when divergent thinking - brainstorming perhaps - is required, a collaborative process makes sense. A group project, however, can turn into a true mess if roles are not assigned or selected and performed individually. Further, I wish that we would teach and facilitate cooperation along with collaboration. Students should learn they can rely on one another and get along well as they find their way to doing so. It is human nature to socialize, and the adult role model can effectively inspire and facilitate this nature toward cooperative learning. Finally, if we want students to work collaboratively, we must model this behavior. It has been said that teaching is an isolating profession. A recent move toward collaboration, the Professional Learning Community model, is a way for teachers to increase their effectiveness while learning together.
I'm compelled to say again that I am mildly depressed to finally accept the fact that I am using more than 10% of my brain. I'm sure my family, friends, and coworkers are disappointed that I cannot have more, as well. My dreams of one day levitating, seeing the future, or simply remembering to wash whites separately from colored clothes with five, ten, or fifteen percent more brain power are just that, delusions. We are doing the best we can with all of what we have. If we want more, we can always teach, model, and learn collaboration. Why not?