Teaching Tips

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Singley BlairSchool psychologist Karyn Singley Blair, M.S., has been teaching BrainWise to high school students for 15 years.  Her expertise is working with special needs youth, and one-third of her students have IQs under 70. She adapts the lessons to fit their abilities and uses concrete examples in creative ways to engage them. These include fun activities that incorporate games, stories, movies, and crafts to reinforce the 10 Wise Ways.

When she teaches about the brain, she makes a jello brain from a mold. Students have fun touching the slimy, wiggly,lifelike brain and identifying both the Wizard Brain and Lizard Brain areas.

BrainWise Founder Dr. Pat Gorman Barry had an opportunity to interview with Karyn after a Challenge Day event that she helped organize for students at the public high school where she is on the faculty.   

Some of Karyn’s students participated in the Challenge Day activities, and she will incorporate BrainWise into the ones she uses in her classes.

Here is the conversation:

PGB:

Karyn, please tell us about your experience teaching BrainWise.

KSB:  I learned about BrainWise through our school social worker, who has since retired. She had encountered a special needs student from another school who talked about using his Lizard Brain and Wizard Brain. Impressed, she found out that he was learning BrainWise at his high school and got more information. I got involved immediately, and we introduced the program at our school. That was 15 years ago, and I have been teaching BrainWise ever since.

My caseload is entirely special needs students.  Their disabilities range across the spectrum, and include more than one of the following:  learning disabilities, health impairments like ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, emotional disturbance, speech or language impairment and  visual impairment — including blindness, deafness and hearing impairments, orthopedic impairment, intellectual disability, and traumatic brain injury.

BrainWise gives me tools that help my students. I can adjust the lesson to fit their needs and abilities, and use whatever learning approach works best for them. I can use BrainWise with any curriculum and customize it to fit my students. We address problems that range from gossip and bullying to talking about suicide, school shootings, and depression. The 10 Wise Ways can be used to address any problem.  I use it all the time because it can be applied to everything.

PGB:  You have helped blind students learn the 10 Wise Ways with Braille teaching tools. Please share this story with us.

KSB: This was a fun project! A vision specialist worked with me and the blind student, who had special needs, to help him learn the Wise Ways. We made a tactile brain, Constellation of Support, Red Flags, and Emotions Elevator using fabric and other materials.  For example, we used different textured yarns to create a brain and represent the Wizard Brain, relay center, and Lizard Brain. The specialist typed in Braille on each teaching aid and explained the concept.

PGB: You use games as a fun way to help students practice using the 10 Wise Ways.  Please share how you integrated BrainWise into a template for Who Wants to e a Millionaire? 

KSB: The Internet has game templates online, and I used a template sent to me by another teacher.  I replaced his questions with basic information about the first four Wise Ways, and projected the questions on the board (see pictures).

I divide the students into two teams and have them choose a captain and a name for their team.  I write the team names on the board (or flipchart paper) and write down Points/Money Won underneath.  The team captains flip a coin to see who goes first. All of the students participate, with help from me and an aid or student intern. The team chooses a final answer and wins a “money” amount if the answer is correct. The team with the highest amount of money wins.

PGB: Do you have any suggestions that would help BrainWise instructors get parents involved in learning about and reinforcing the 10 Wise Ways at home?

KSB: We were fortunate that one year we had a grant that gave us funds to offer a BrainWise parent program. Even then, because our parents often work one or more jobs, it was difficult to get them involved. I talk with parents who come to parent meetings and try to find ways to get information to them, such as sending home worksheets with the students.  It is hard to involve parents, and I would love to have some suggestions!

PGB:  What would you tell a new BrainWise instructor?

KSB:  The curriculum has everything you need from lesson plans and activities to reproducible student worksheets.  The language is simple, but it explains complex concepts.  The program can be adapted for students of all abilities,from special needs students to students who understand neuroscience research on brain development. Repetition is key to learning, and the examples in the curriculum show you how to integrate the 10 Wise Ways into your classroom culture and course materials. Put up BrainWise posters not only in your classroom, but in the school hallways. Use news and current events at the school and in the community for problem situations.

Special needs students thrive on concrete examples, and BrainWise provides many opportunities to use them. For example, students can identify parts of their bodies where they feel Red Flag warnings. One student said that her “tongue feels thick” before she has a seizure.  Other students identify their internal Red Flags as seeing stars, hearing ringing in their ears, or feeling tight.

I worked with a social worker whose schizophrenic student had a psychotic episode and saw flying clocks coming to steal his brain. In response, he said that he “needed to find the green.”  She did not know what he meant, and another student told her that he meant he wanted to use his Wizard Brain. The youth had colored his Wizard Brain green, and wanted to use it to help him get rid of the flying clocks.  This example shows how BrainWise can work for everyone.

Richard ThalerUniversity of Chicago professor and economist Richard Thaler, Ph.D., received the 2017 Nobel Prize in Economics for demonstrating that individuals consistently make thinking errors that sabotage their financial decisions.

Dr.Thaler says “I try to teach people to make fewer mistakes. But in designing economic policies, we need to take full account of the fact that people are busy, they’re absent-minded, they’re lazy and that we should try to make things as easy for them as possible.”

In BrainWise terms, Dr. Thaler is talking about how people’s emotions trigger Lizard Brain impulses that override their Wizard Brain’s more rational decisions on how to save and spend money.For them, emotions that range from excitement to craving and self-aggrandizement to arrogance underlie impulsive and irrational spending. When it comes to making financial decisions, people high on the emotions elevator ignore red flags, bypass good advice, and justify their faulty choices. This emotional hijacking explains how even smart people make poor economic choices.

Thaler links this poor decision-making to the consequences errant spending behaviors have now and later (CNL), as well as the financial consequences affecting others (CAO). His solutions have led to creative and successful ways for people to manage their money. He developed the “Save for Tomorrow” retirement plan where participants deposit future salary increases in a retirement account. He also supports the automatic enrollment of workers in 401(k) programs, a process where employers make monthly withdrawals from paychecks for retirement savings. The Nobel committee said that “he has shown how human traits systematically affect individual decisions as well as market outcomes“.

To reinforce rational thinking about finance to support the behavioral economics heralded by Dr.Thaler, infuse BrainWise exercises into financial problem examples.

TEACHING TIP:  RED FLAG ACTIVITY

Sarah Hays TeachingPlease welcome Sarah Hays as a new BrainWise Board Member.  Sarah is a School Prevention Specialist, middle school teacher and BrainWise instructor and trainer. At a recent training of instructors, Sarah offered a fun teaching tip and activity for children and teens. The adults had as much fun as the students. This activity can be done individually,in teams or in groups. Distribute an outline of an age-appropriate figure to each participant. (Below is an example to use with children.)

 

Red Flag Buddy

Publication1 Directions:

1. Mark on Buddy the areas where you feel Internal Red Flags.  Share answers and talk about the internal senses they elicit – pressure, heat, chills, dizziness, headache, tightness, sinking sensation, choking, breathing changes, rapid heart rate, etc.

2. Next, mark areas on Buddy that showcase External Red Flags.  Share answers and talk about the warnings they send.  Discuss the internal feelings that external red flags can bring on – a red face is feeling hot, a clenched fist is feeling tight with rapid heart rate.

3. Add additional information on Red Flags to Buddy.

4. Finally, discuss other types of External Red Flags – the dirty look someone gives you, or the empty cans of beer on the porch – and what internal Red Flags they raise. Add these to the backside of the Buddy page.

It is exciting when BrainWise instructors seek to interest parents in learning the 10 Wise Ways! Jon Livengood, a Mental Health Professional and a new BrainWise instructor, is working with children in grades K-8. He introduced BrainWise in a Therapeutic Summer Program in Warren, Pennsylvania, and sent an email requesting help so that he could better provide support to parents.

“I am writing to inform you of the successes we (our Therapeutic Summer Program) are having using the BrainWise curriculum.  The children have taken to it very well. 

I am working on a short presentation for the parents and guardians to introduce to them the concepts of BrainWise and how the information their children are learning will be weaved into our treatment.  In particular it will give a common language for them to use with their children forever for solving problems.”

This complements the long-term goal of BrainWise — to provide graduates with thinking skills that will help them live happy and productive lives.  The drawing below by a BrainWise graduate in China beautifully illustrates how this works.

Arrows Before

Arrows AfterYou will always have problems, but BrainWise skills help you deflect them.

 


 

Ways to Help Parents Reinforce BrainWise

Here are suggestions and teaching aids that will help you involve parents in teaching and reinforcing the 10 Wise Ways with their children at home.

Hold a BrainWise Parent Session.

Present an overview of the program using the 10 Wise Ways posters or contact BrainWise for a PowerPoint presentation of the 10 Wise Ways. As you present each poster, ask the parents what they think the concept means before you give a short explanation.

After you explain each concept, introduce a short activity for each Wise Way.   For example, for Wise Way #1, Wizard Brain over Lizard Brain, hand out brain worksheets in the curriculum, or a copy of the BrainWise CPR brain worksheet (contact info here to get BW CPR brain worksheet). Explain the five senses, the thalamus, the Lizard Brain and Wizard Brain. Have the parents draw a line connecting the thalamus to the Wizard Brain.

Here is an example that uses Wise Way #5, Ask Questions.  Use the riddle in the curriculum, “She turned, looked at him, and ran.”  This is an engaging activity and can be done quickly. Remember, if one of the parents asks the right question, say, “That’s a good question; we will get back to it.” Move on, and get more questions from the group before you reveal the answer.

As you review each wise way, have the parents draw a connection on their brain picture for each one.  At the end, remind them that the connections disappear if the skill is not practiced!

  • Distribute copies of the BrainWise problem-solving worksheets (in back of curriculum), BrainWise checklists (also in curriculum), or a copy of the BrainWise CPR problem- solving worksheet .
  • Suggest that parents work with their children and create customized text reminders that remind them to use the 10 Wise Ways.  The texts say things like “Use your Wizard Brain!”  “Exit your Emotions Elevator!” “Think about the Consequences,” etc. Parents can randomly send the text reminders to their children.
  • Encourage parents to integrate BrainWise into daily activities. Parents can use the BrainWise checklists (make copies from curriculum) to help their children analyze stories or movies. You can suggest that parents have their children identify and label Wizard Brain and Lizard Brain foods and that parents use the 10 Wise Ways to analyze their own problems, as well as help their children. Encourage the parents to apply the Wise Ways to current events as well as family behaviors. They can use BrainWise problem-solving worksheets to work through issues.
  • Have parents and children create individual Constellations of Support that contain viable resources including pertinent humans, online sources, spiritual support, pets, etc. Draw or cut out pictures that remind them of their support systems, and glue or tape them onto their Constellations.
  • Ask your PTO, the school, or parents to purchase the $15.00 companion book, How To Be BrainWise for each family.
  • Encourage parents to create their own adaptations of the 10 Wise Ways to address family dynamics. Practicing using mantras is one strategy for lowering your Emotions Elevator, and Newsletter readers will remember that a family used “popcorn” as a mantra when emotions started skyrocketing. The absurd, but “silly connotations” word spoken during duress helped defuse volatile situations. Another family encouraged members to use “I” messages during dinner discussions.

When BrainWise graduates are asked, “Which Wise Way do you find most helpful?” they frequently name  “Wizard Brain over Lizard Brain” and the “Emotions Elevator.” Further questioning reveals why.  Learning about the Wizard Brain and Lizard Brain made them aware that they have control of their impulses, something they did not know.  This knowledge helped them understand how they could control their emotions and exit their Emotion Elevators.

WW #1

WW #1

WW #4

WW #4

Some BrainWise graduates give dramatic examples, such as the ex-gang member who backed out of participating in behavior that resulted in the incarceration of his homies, or the parents who said BrainWise skills helped them learn how to not hit their children.  Many BrainWise graduates cite problem situations and pinpoint the techniques they used to control their urge to react. They will proudly describe how they used their Wizard Brain to stop talking, leave the situation, use control self-talk, or find acceptable ways to redirect their emotions. Now that they recognize consequences, they see how controlling their reactions helps prevent problems.

Although techniques to redirect emotions don’t get mentioned as often by graduates of the program, they can be just as important.  For example, Mindfulness, Contemplation, and Meditation (MCM) techniques may be overlooked because they take more time to learn. Program users need to see this as a BIG MISTAKE!  These techniques have been scientifically proved to have significant, long-term benefits for health.

Mantras are a valuable aid that complement and enhance MCM. A word or phrase that you repeat over and over, silently, or aloud, “mantra” comes from a Sanskrit word that has the root, “man,” and means “an instrument of thought.” This definition is a great description for a technique that helps you use Wizard Brain thinking over the Lizard Brain’s impulse to react. How does it work?

Studies show that repeating a word or phrase over and over relieves stress and promotes bodily changes that have physical benefits. Detailed research has been published by neuroscientists Alex Korb, Ph.D. and Aviva Berkovich-Ohana, Ph.D. and her colleagues  The findings add further credibility to using MCM, as they explain the mantra effect and how it is related to controlling Lizard Brain reactions.

Previous posts have discussed the importance of addressing stress in our lives, including the wake-up call that Kaiser Permanente’s Adverse Childhood Events (ACE) study gave us. Researchers were stunned to find the serious health consequences that stressful life has on our bodies, including earlier death. As a BrainWise user, you understand the importance of replacing Lizard Brain reactions with Wizard Brain skills. You know that using words or statements such as “stay calm,” “control,” and “wizard brain” help you build more neural pathways/brain connections that promote Wizard Brain thinking. Repeating a mantra over and over to build neural connections is one more way to help you use Wizard Brain thinking to control Lizard Brain reactions.

Establishing a mindset to use mantras and other MCM techniques effectively takes practice. It is a mistake to give up if you don’t see immediate results, as the positive benefits are lasting. The following example shows how a family got in the habit of using mantras. Their unorthodox approach shows how a personal twist can promote Wizard Brain behavior.

The public health nurse who worked with the family said its members struggled with multiple problems, including explosive outbursts. When talking about ways to exit the Emotions Elevator, he introduced mantras. When the nurse revisited the family, he learned that the family patriarch had chosen “popcorn” for his mantra, and he repeated the word over and over when things started to escalate. He found that it helped him defuse tense situations as he and his wife and children started laughing when he said “popcorn, popcorn, popcorn.” This novel approach worked, and the family started using humorous as well as serious mantras to lower their emotions.

The March post shared examples of how BrainWise changes behaviors, and past newsletters presented data that show how BrainWise graduates have improved outcomes on measures of decision making and executive functions.

Dr. Judson Brewer

Dr. Judson Brewer

These successes would not surprise Dr. Judson Brewer.  Dr. Brewer’s research focuses on mindfulness training, a process he describes as teaching us how to focus on what is happening in our minds and bodies from moment to moment. He calls this experience “getting curious,” and says it helps us step out of “old, fear-based, reactive habits.”  His 2016 TED talk, “A Simple Way to Break a Bad Habit,” has been viewed more than 6 million times.

In BrainWise terms, he is talking about recognizing our Red Flag Warnings and then using Wizard Brain thinking to lower whatever emotions our problems trigger, including craving, anxiety, anger, excitement, and fear.  This awareness, which he calls a “step into being,” helps us manage our urges from moment to moment.  By breaking problems down and making them more manageable, they become easier to change.

He admits that this “might sound too simplistic to affect behavior,” but his lab research shows that “mindfulness training was twice as good as gold standard therapy at helping people quit smoking.” He has gone on to successfully apply the approach to a wide range of problem behaviors.

The reception to his work and presentation is exciting!  Likewise, BrainWise users learn how to replace Lizard Brain emotions and reactions with Wizard Brain responses, a similar technique that alters problem behaviors. By using BrainWise CPR (Marty put link to summary of BW CPR here), program graduates learn that Red Flag Warnings prepare them to access their Emotions Elevator.  This process helps them control the impulse to react because it makes them aware that what’s happening in their bodies is connected with their minds and how they react.

Emotions Elevator

Emotions Elevator

In addition, BrainWise graduates learn to make further connections with the prefrontal cortex when they use their support systems, apply strategies that help them lower their emotions elevators, separate facts from opinions, ask the right questions, identify all their choices and the consequences of their choices, and communicate effectively. These additional skills not only provide a simple way to break a bad habit, they also are easy techniques that help us make lasting changes to improve our lives.

So the next time your Red Flag Warnings fly and your emotions shoot up your Emotions Elevator, recognize what is happening, and step back.  Assess the situation by using the 10 Wise Ways.  And as was discussed last month, use BrainWise CPR problem-solving worksheets to practice applying your skills.  It won’t be long before you are making better choices.

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Parents and educators “need to teach information literacy as soon as children can push a button.”
Carla Hayden, PhD, 14th librarian of Congress

Carla Hayden, PhD, 14th librarian of Congress

Carla Hayden, PhD, 14th librarian of Congress

Carla Hayden, PhD, former president of the American Library Association and the 14th librarian of the US Congress, says that information literacy is key to addressing fake news. “Librarians have been pounding on this issue in a different way for a while—just having computer literacy is great, but as information professionals, we’re always looking at what’s the most authoritative source for the information and teaching information literacy. It’s great to have all this stuff, but you need to teach how to use the library.”
Dr. Hayden promotes the valuable service libraries offer and understands the important role libraries play in communities. From school and local libraries to the Library of Congress, she sees professional library staff as resources who give unbiased, nonpartisan information and will provide answers to questions about fake versus factual news. Because of their long-standing reputation as stewards of information, libraries and librarians should be “double lines” in everyone’s Constellation of Support. They are the “go to” fact checkers for accurate information on any subject matter, including government. This link shows the wide range of online resources libraries offer for government information:
For some people, libraries are their sole resource to electronically access information they may need for their health, job, and families. As many businesses, health providers, and government agencies now use electronic formats as their only means of contact, libraries provide everyone with online computer services, free of charge. They thus enable all members of the community, regardless of income bracket, to find needed information. Additionally, in times of disaster, the library may be the only functioning source for contacting critical government services for people from all walks of life.
And while the services of skilled librarians and the resources of libraries are invaluable, individuals also need critical-thinking skills to navigate the information-gathering process and to evaluate multiple sources of information. This is where BrainWise CPR tools are needed, including knowing how to use Wizard Brain thinking, build a Constellation of Support, recognize red flag warnings, manage emotions, separate fact from opinion, ask the right questions, identify choices, consider consequences, set goals, and communicate effectively. BrainWise graduates recognize that solving problems requires them to wisely assess a situation, and using credible resources is part of this process. BrainWise provides the foundation for information literacy by teaching skills that prevent and solve problems associated with the assimilation and dissemination of information.