shows that the human brain is hard-wired at birth to react
emotionally and immediately to the world around us. This
reflex, which stays with us all our life, is important
to our survival, but can cause problems for us in our
daily lives. Higher brain functions--social skills that
override our tendency to react without thinking--must be
learned in order to build the neural connections the brain
needs to process critical thinking.
critical thinking and decision making skills, such as the ability to stop to think, consider
consequences, or plan effectively, often are taught children
on a "hit or miss" basis. Children cannot use
skills they have not learned and their absence leads to
emotional and impulsive behavior. The BrainWise Program was developed to help fill this gap, because without these
critical thinking skills children often make decisions that can ruin their
foundation for the BrainWise Program combines information
about our "hard-wired brain" with other research
- A growing body of data on the brain's functions and
a characteristic called "neuroplasticity",
which demonstrates the ability of the brain to be flexible
and reactive in its development;
- The corresponding identification of teaching methods
for important skills which build neural connections
to higher brain functions; and,
- An increased understanding that cognitive skills
not used are lost--the "use it or lose it"
mantra of performance excellence.
information, together with decades of scientific-based
research in the fields of education and the social sciences,
was used to develop the BrainWise Program. Included in
this research were findings from studies on youth development,
strategies for changing behavior, and techniques for effective
teaching. Field tests of the program were conducted over
three years with high-risk students and the feedback from
faculty, staff, students, administrators and parents was
used to refine the curricula's content and structure.
The result is a program whose design allows for easy replication
and fidelity to its content.
addition, over ten years of classroom experiences, ongoing
evaluation, independent testing, and other factors have
validated the program's effectiveness and reinforced its
In 2000 ,
an independent evaluation of BrainWise was conducted by
OMNI Research and Training, a national firm specializing
in the independent assessment of social programs. Its
study of the program employed both pre and post test standardized
measures, focus groups and secondary analysis of data
to evaluate 7th graders in both a control and a comparison
school. Study participants were students considered to
be 'at risk'. When outcomes at the two schools were compared,
BrainWise students showed a statistically significant
decrease in reports of physical aggression and feelings
of sadness, loneliness and being upset.
study also found that because of the program, BrainWise students demonstrated an increased awareness of and use
of important social skills. Those skills included:
- Information gathering and communication
- Conflict de-escalation and negotiation
- Assertiveness and honesty
- Obtaining of outside help
- Understanding of consequences
- Avoidance of lying, fighting and disrespecting others.
addition, content analysis of hundreds of post course
drawings by students showing themselves before and after
the course further validated these findings. In the drawings,
program graduates state and illustrate they are "less
aggressive", more "calm", "less lonely"
and that they feel "happier", more "in
control", "smarter", "friendlier"
and "nicer". Some students reported that BrainWise helped them get through difficult situations, including
suicidal thoughts and peer pressure to participate in
drugs and violence.
during the 2004-2005 school year, a pilot study of BrainWise was conducted with 34 students at five school sites. Pre
and post-tests were conducted with students using the
Tower of London-R instrument (to test executive function)
and the Stroop test (to test impulsivity). The findings
showed that 28 of 34 students (82%) demonstrated improved
performance on at least one of the measures and 16 of
34 (47%) demonstrated improvement on both the TOL-R and
full paper outlining this study and its findings, as well
as the theoretical base of BrainWise was presented by
Dr. Barry in June at the 2005 Adolescent Brain Conference
at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Conference participants were selected because their work applied research findings that won Dr. Eric Kandel the 2000 Nobel Prize in Medicine. Dr. Kandel proved the brain's neuroplasticity or its ability to form neural connections when it learned something new. The paper, co-authored by
Dr. Marilyn Welsh (University of Northern Colorado), was published in Adolescent Psychopathology and the Developing Brain: Integrating Brain and Prevention Science a 2007 book by Oxford University Press. It also contains papers presented at a 2005 conference held at the University of Pennsylvania that presented cutting-edge programs and research on the brain.
The BrainWise Research Team
Also driving and refining the growth of the BrainWise Program is a research team comprised of master BrainWise instructors, public health professionals, and academicians with expertise on brain functions and neurobiology. Because they come from diverse backgrounds, they bring unique experience to the team, and all share a common passion. Each of the team members is committed to helping people learn to override impulse and emotion by creating new skills to respond thoughtfully to the many choices and behaviors that guide their lives.
From rural tribal villages in Alaska, to high school students in Denver, to victims of sex traffickers in China, BrainWise thinking skills are being field tested, taught, texted and integrated interactively online. Research and experience on the outcomes of this education is being measured, evaluated and refined by this group of individuals.
BrainWise Program founder Dr. Patricia Gorman Barry, PhD, RN, calls the diverse group of distinguished professionals “a committed and exceptional team. They have donated their time and expertise to help BrainWise gain recognition and reach more people.” Click here for more information about The BrainWise Research Team.
indicator of the program's successful outcomes is its
"word-of-mouth" growth over a ten year period. Because many
instructors are committed to the program, they are instrumental
in integrating BrainWise into their school, district or
program's growth also demonstrates its universal appeal
and application. BrainWise is taught throughout the United States, as well as in Mexico
and China. The program has been translated to Spanish
and Chinese and reports from instructors are positive.
In China over 400 people were trained in the program and,
in one application, BrainWise is being used to give illiterate
rural girls the skills to resist sex traffickers.
validation comes from focus groups conducted with instructors who have
seen students years after they participated in the program.
The instructors report students who are improving their
lives by attending college, getting out of gangs, building
better relationships with their families and learning
how to get along with others. Both the instructors and
students give credit to BrainWise for helping to change
of these outcomes have generated requests for specialized
versions of the program and the creation of BrainWise books not only for grades K-5 and grades 6-12, but also
for counselors, social workers, mentors and others who
work one-on-one with students. In addition, a companion
book for parents and a special version of BrainWise for
educators working with emotionally disabled and severely
emotionally disabled children and youth have also been
how to stop and think, control emotions, and make good
choices are skills that underlie success. Research findings
and the experience of teachers and students show that
students who complete the BrainWise Program are making
better choices and better decisions, which allow them
to live happier and healthier lives.
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