Program

May 23, 2017

OVERVIEW

BrainTrain4Kids is a web site based on the National Institute on Drug Abuse “Brain power!” classroom curriculum that uses interactive techniques to teach children about the brain, the scientific method, and how alcohol and tobacco affect the brain. The site is intended for home use and its goal is to lay a foundation for later drug abuse prevention programs and interventions by increasing its elementary school-aged audience’s knowledge and promoting a positive attitude about science and the scientific method. An experimental evaluation of BrainTrain4Kids found that at post-intervention there was a significant increase in knowledge scores for those in the treatment group, compared with those in the control group, and that this increase was retained at the six-week follow-up. The study also found that the attitudes of those in the treatment group towards science were more significantly more positive immediately post-intervention than at baseline, and at follow up than at baseline, compared with those in the control group.

DESCRIPTION OF PROGRAM

Target population:  Children aged seven to nine.

BrainTrain4Kids.com is an interactive World Wide Web site for children aged seven to nine and is based on the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) “Brain Power!” classroom curriculum for 2nd and 3rd graders. The primary objective of the curriculum is to provide an early foundation for substance abuse prevention efforts by educating elementary school-aged children about the brain and how alcohol, tobacco, and drugs can harm the brain. Secondary aims include improving knowledge of, and appreciation for, scientific inquiry, and sustaining a positive attitude towards science. BrainTrain4Kids is designed for independent use in non-school settings and omits information about illicit drugs of abuse, instead focusing on tobacco and alcohol. The web site employs engaging and entertaining elements, including animated cartoons, movies, quizzes, 3D modeling, and educational games.

BrainTrain4Kids consists of six main lessons that focus on the scientific method, the brain, and the prevention of alcohol and tobacco use. Users can self-register at the web site free of charge.  There are no time limits on how quickly activities must be completed, and users can stop at any time and return to the same place at a later time.  Users navigate at their own pace through the main program, which presents and explains the basic curriculum, interactive educational materials, and off-line activities. The site begins by introducing the steps of scientific inquiry, following the National Science Education Standards (1996) for levels K-4.  Each successive part of the curriculum builds on earlier information and is narrated by a character named Corty, the conductor of the Brain Train. The site consists of six train stations, each of which focuses on a particular theme: scientific inquiry, brain function, messaging through the neural system, the effects of drugs, tobacco, and drug effects and how to stay healthy. Each station has four buildings that the user can visit: Welcome Center, interactive learning in Buildings 2 and 3, and Brain Games. After completion of the six-station program, the user can click on the link to the final quiz at the end of Building 3 in Station 6 to earn a Junior Scientist Award and to print a Certification of Completion.  Each station must initially be accessed in numerical order, and the buildings at each station must also initially be visited in sequence, but after a visit the user can return to any previously visited station or building. The “Grown-up Guide” provides instruction on how the web site can be used. There are also offline follow-up activities.

EVALUATION OF PROGRAM

Metcalf, M. P. (2015). Assessment of an interactive internet program to educate children aged 7 – 9 about science, the brain and drugs. Creative Education, 4, 683-693.

Evaluated Population: A total of 102 parent/child pairs participated in the study.

A convenience sample of participants was recruited through local newspaper and parenting magazine advertisements, as well as on-line advertising, in Texas, California, and North Carolina. Requirements for participation in the study included that a parent be interested in and willing to participate, that the participating child be between the ages of seven and nine, and that each parent/child pair have regular access to the Internet. Parents interested in participating were asked to respond via email, and were in turn sent a screening questionnaire.  Each parent/child participant pair completed a standardized informed consent process.

The study sample included 58 boys and 60 girls, 73.7 percent were white, 15.3 percent were black or African American, 5.1 percent were Asian, and 4.2 percent were American Indian/Alaskan Native.  In terms of ethnicity, 89 percent were non-Hispanic/Latino, and 10.2 percent were Hispanic or Latino.

Approach: The 102 participant pairs were randomly assigned to either a treatment group, which would complete the BrainTrain4Kids curriculum, or a control group.  The study used a two-group with crossover design, such that controls were given access to the web site after treatment cases had had six weeks to complete the project. At that time, both the treatment and control children had completed the baseline and follow-up data collection.  Two instruments were used to measure changes in knowledge and attitude.  The knowledge instrument consisted of 21 items: 16 multiple choice and five True/False questions.  The attitude instrument consisted of 16 items: 6 for science, 5 for health, and 5 for related behavior issues. The on-line data collection instruments were pretested with 30 parent/child pairs to determine the instruments’ ability to measure knowledge, attitude, and satisfaction with BrainTrain4Kids. The child participants in the treatment group were asked to complete the data collection instruments at baseline, after using BrainTrain4Kids, and at a six-week follow up. The children in the control group were asked to complete the instruments at baseline, after a six-week wait period without using BrainTrain4Kids, and after using the web site.

Participants spent a maximum of thirteen weeks in the study, but some were unable to finish and some were dropped because of concerns that they did not meet participation criteria (e.g., there was no actual child participant in a supposed parent/child pair).  Participants in the treatment group were sent a link to the web site at the beginning of the study period.  After six weeks, all study participants were given a week to complete the instruments again, where after those in the control group were sent the link to the web site and were given six weeks to complete the curriculum. At the end of the study, all participants were asked to complete assessments a third and final time.

Of the initial 102 study participant pairs, 72 completed the study.  No significant difference was found between those who completed all three assessments and those who dropped out. At baseline, there were no significant differences between the participant and control groups in either knowledge or attitude scores.

Results: The study found that, for those children in the treatment group, using the BrainTrain4Kids web site significantly increased their knowledge scores on the post-test assessment, as compared with those in the control group; those in the treatment group scored 69.1, on average, compared with 49.2 for non-participants.  The study also found that, for those children in the treatment group, using the BrainTrain4Kids web site significantly increased their attitude scores concerning science on the post-test assessment, as compared with those in the control group; those in the treatment group scored 90.3, on average, compared with 85.9 for non-participants.  The treatment group’s knowledge scores at follow-up did not significantly differ from their scores on the post-test assessment, indicating that retained knowledge over the six weeks between the assessments.

The study found no significant differences between the knowledge scores of boys and girls, or for the scores of children of different ages.

SOURCES FOR MORE INFORMATION

Web Site: www.BrainTrain4Kids.com

References

Metcalf, M. P. (2015). Assessment of an interactive internet program to educate children aged 7 – 9 about science, the brain and drugs. Creative Education, 4, 683-693.

KEYWORDS: Children (3-11), Elementary, Males and Females (Co-ed), Home-based, Computer-based, Tobacco Use, Alcohol Use

Program information last updated on 5/23/2017.

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