Critical Thinking and Decision Making for Teens Critical Thinking and Decision Making for Teens



Thousands of individuals have purchased one of the BrainWise curricula or have been trained in the BrainWise Program since it was first introduced in 1995. Through their work, thousands upon thousands of students have been taught the 10 Wise Ways and are benefiting from the program. In addition, through licensing agreements with BrainWise, many creative people have taken the basic concepts of BrainWise and have incorporated them into their own programs or service offerings with the help of Dr. Barry.

Here are some examples of how service organizations, community based organizations, non-profit organizations, schools, and government agencies have used and are using the BrainWise Program. Please contact us at for any special arrangements you may desire, including training for teachers and staff, or to find out if your organization can benefit from a licensing agreement with BrainWise.


• Elementary School. Wendy Cameron, Kindergarten Teacher, University Park Elementary School, Denver, Colorado:

Ms. Cameron field-tested the elementary school version of BrainWise and began using it with kindergartners in 1996. An award-winning teacher, she says she previously had taught students many of the same concepts, but BrainWise provides a comprehensive package of ideas, providing a framework and tools to help teachers do a better job. She found that her students teach the skills to other children and even to their parents. One parent reported her son reprimanded her when she forgot to put on her seat belt, saying, "Mom, you're using your Lizard Brain!"

• Lower School. Sally Kennedy, Graland Country Day School, Denver, Colorado:

Ms. Kennedy introduced BrainWise into Graland Country Day School in response to her faculty's request for a program to "recognize and identify good choices." Once the program was in place she reported: "Students are taking ownership and responsibility for their behavior. The program is helping them solve problems, think critically and make good decisions. My goal is that when these kids are teens and faced with decisions about drugs or sex, they can stop and think about making the best decision." She reported that once the program was introduced throughout the school, office referrals were down 20 percent.

• Middle School. Debbie Henehan, MS, Counselor, Sheridan Middle School, Sheridan, Colorado:

A counselor at one of five schools where BrainWise was piloted in 1995, Ms. Henehan guided the program's growth from a single class for high-risk girls to a program that was taught to every student.

• High School, Including Emotionally Disabled. Patricia Austin, Counselor, Aurora Central High School, Aurora, Colorado:

Seeing significant changes in the behavior of a student with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome who had taken BrainWise prompted Ms. Austin to start a campaign in the spring of 2002 to introduce BrainWise throughout the Aurora Public Schools District, which serves a diverse and low-income population of 31,533 students. She says, "Many of the student are ill-prepared for a public school because of poverty, emotional issues, and unstable family lives. BrainWise gives teachers tools to help them recognize they are responsible for their choices and the lesson activities make abstract concepts very concrete and easy to learn and apply."

• College. Robert Knecht, Ph.D., Professor, Colorado School of Mines, Golden, Colorado:

When Dr. Knecht heard about the BrainWise Program, he immediately saw how it would benefit students in his Engineering Process classes. As part of the classroom work, he assigns students to work in teams of five to solve a community design problem, but difficulties arise when students are unable to apply higher-level thinking skills used to solve engineering problems to those involving people. With BrainWise, Dr. Knecht showed students how to apply thinking skills to solve interpersonal problems.

Community Organizations

• Teen Fathers. Matt Sena, Fatherhood Program Manager, Chugachmiut Inc., Anchorage Alaska:

Mr. Sena has taught BrainWise to young men since 1998, and currently teaches BrainWise classes to teen fathers in Alaska. He formerly taught young fathers attending inner-city Denver high schools. He is also part of the newly formed Fatherhood and Families Collaborative Institute, a consortium of agencies serving youth and young families. His goal is to introduce BrainWise to teen father programs nationwide.

• Teen Drug and Alcohol Abusers and Children of Substance Abusers. Flavia Lewis, MSW, Director, The Mile High Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse:

The Council infused BrainWise into many of its programs, including those provided to teens receiving court-ordered substance abuse treatment, as well as mentoring programs for children of incarcerated parents, offered in conjunction with community churches. The Council first used BrainWise in 1997.

• Girl Scouts. Valerie Silvers, MSW – Girl Scout Leader, Lakewood, Colorado:

Interested in teaching BrainWise to her children, Ms. Silvers used her position as a Girl Scout leader to introduce the BrainWise Program to troops in her district and developed a Girl Scout BrainWise Merit Badge.

Critical Thinking and Decision Making for Teens



Service Organizations

• Rotarians Teach Critical Thinking Skills

In 2005, the Rotary Club of Denver Mile High selected the BrainWise curriculum as an intervention to improve the 13 percent high school graduation rate in the predominantly Hispanic Villa Park neighborhood. The club is using the evidence-based program to build community literacy by teaching about the brain and showing children and parents how thinking skills, called the 10 Wise Ways, help solve problems. They learn to "be BrainWise" and use Wizard Brain thinking over Lizard Brain impulses, know the best sources to go to for help, recognize red flags that warn them of problems, learn techniques to manage their emotions, separate fact from opinion, ask the right questions, identify choices and consider their consequences, set goals, and communicate effectively.

Rotarians from Denver Mile High, Rotary e-club One, the Rotary Club of Denver LoDo, and other clubs are supporting, facilitating and co-facilitating BrainWise sessions with teachers in Villa Park elementary school and also are offering an after-school program for families. The 10 Wise Ways give Rotarians, teachers, parents, and children a language to describe the thinking process and understand how they and others use thinking skills. For example, children read stories, or have stories read to them, and analyze the characters and situation using the 10 Wise Ways. In family meetings, parents identify and discuss problem situations and how they use the Wise Ways to solve them. Rotarians were moved by the candid responses of parents to the question, "How did you use BrainWise this week?" One mother responded: "Esta semana no pegué mis hijos" - "This week, I did not hit my children."

Over time, parents requested help with their children's homework, and asked if Rotarians could offer English conversation classes so they could practice using English. They also wanted to know when we would start new sessions so their family and friends could learn BrainWise. Topics they want to discuss include applying the 10 Wise Ways to family issues, finances, stress, media influences on children, and job placement.

It is still too early to see long-term effects, but many indicators spell success. The program is growing and will be taught throughout the school, and neighboring schools want to implement it, too. A nearby charter high school for high risk youth will begin teaching BrainWise as part of their curriculum, funded by a District Simplified Grant. Rotarians will teach classes for parents and integrate BrainWise thinking skills into the financial lessons. Marilyn Welsh, Ph.D. and Paul Klaczynski, Ph.D. professors of educational psychology at the University of Northern Colorado, are evaluating the program's outcomes. The result will be used to build a model that other clubs can successfully replicate as Rotary shares.

In 2007, BrainWise received Rotary's North American Innovative Literacy Project Recognition.

Government Agencies

• Office of the District Attorney. Michael Geesaman, Director, Colorado Adolescent Mentoring Program (CAMP), Canon City, Colorado:

A school-based mentoring program, CAMP started using BrainWise to give more guidance to community volunteers serving as mentors to youth who have had contact with police. "BrainWise is amazing!" said Mr. Isely, the former director of the program. "It is the backbone of CAMP and should be used by all mentoring programs. It contains everything you need to know about thinking skills and how to teach them. The young people we work with will use these skills for the rest of their lives."

• County Health Department. Nancy Wilson, Director, Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative, Montrose, Colorado:

Faced with the highest pregnancy rate in the state, Ms. Wilson and her staff started teaching BrainWise to girls identified as high risk for pregnancy in 1995. She credited the program with the reduction of the county's teen pregnancy rate from 35.8 babies to 22.5 babies per every 1,000 women between the ages of 14 and 19.

BrainWise in Other Countries

• China. Xiaoliang Li, M.D., Director of Public Health, Kunming Medical College, Yunnan, China. Email:

As one of eight women selected as a fellow by the Institute of International Education (IIE) to tour the U.S., Dr. Li observed a BrainWise class at Mi Casa Resource Center in Denver. She immediately saw the application of teaching these thinking skills to young people in cities and rural areas of southwestern China -- victims of sex traffickers, sexually transmitted diseases, suicide, and drug abuse. With funding from the Save the Children Foundation-UK, Dr. Li translated the curriculum into Chinese and successfully field-tested the program in urban and rural areas. In 2001, IIE funded Dr. Gorman Barry to join her in training 400 BrainWise instructors in Kunming, Beijing, and Hong Kong.

Critical Thinking and Decision Making for Teens


Critical Thinking and Decision Making for Teens

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