Category Archives: PhUn Week

Physiology Understanding (PhUn) Week is Celebrating 10 Years!

PhUn Week Logo DRAFT-Version 2

Physiology Understanding (PhUn) Week is the American Physiological Society’s annual outreach program that reaches more than 14,000 K-12 students across the country! This year we are celebrating our 10th anniversary and as part of the festivities, the LifeSciTRC Community is highlighting past blog posts related to PhUn week. Click on the links below to discover for yourself how fun and easy PhUn week can be!

If you are interested in having an American Physiological Society member and scientist come to your classroom or school, visit the PhUn Week website!


Past PhUn Week Posts:


Shain-Head shot

Margaret Shain Stieben is the Pro­gram Man­ager for K-12 Education Pro­grams at the Amer­i­can Phys­i­o­log­i­cal Soci­ety. Her main responsibilities include developing, orga­niz­ing, and imple­ment­ing edu­ca­tion projects aimed at pro­mot­ing professional development opportunities for middle and high school science teachers and outreach opportunities among phys­i­ol­o­gists and K-12 teachers across the nation. This includes the Frontiers in Physiology Research Fel­low­ship Pro­gram, PhUn Week, Local Science Fair Awards, APS Special Awards at the International Science and Engineering Fair and promoting career development in K-12 classrooms. She works exten­sively with both the Education and Careers Opportunity Com­mit­tees on these projects and reg­u­larly attends meet­ings and con­fer­ences to give pre­sen­ta­tions about these programs.

The “PhUn”damentals of Physiology Understanding Week

phun-color-bigI first learned of the American Physiological Society sponsored event, PhUn Week (Physiology Understanding) during my year as a Frontiers in Physiology fellow. As a fellow, I created relationships with research scientists who were eager to visit my middle school students and present the work they did, as well as the path it took them to become scientists. The fellowship transformed my role as an educator, partly because it introduced me to PhUn Week which will be part of my physiology unit as long as I am teaching.

PhUn Week has two components that will make every teacher happy: 1) excellent lesson plans that are ready to use, and 2) FREE STUFF! The purpose of PhUn week is to engage students in a variety of lessons regarding different aspects of physiology and disease. The lessons, developed by physiologists, incorporate technology, research, and inquiry through hands-on investigations, and are ready to be implemented immediately. In fact, there are so many high-quality lessons, that the hardest part of planning PhUn Week has always been deciding which ones I did not have time to present! The APS has a website dedicated to PhUn Week with all of the information, lessons, suggested time frames, press releases, and more, needed for teachers planning a PhUn Week event. In addition to the student-centered, high-level lesson plans, the APS also sends “freebies” to teachers hosting a PhUn Week. In years past, some of the freebies have included string backpacks with the PhUn Week logo printed on them, anatomically accurate heart stress balls, and information regarding physiology for EACH STUDENT! The teachers and physiologists involved also receive goodies like t-shirts and coffee mugs that promote PhUn Week.

So, here are the PhUn-damentals of PhUn Week:

  1. PhUn Week is usually the first week in November, but this date is flexible. If the first
    week in November doesn’t work with your schedule, do it when it does!
  2. To get started, first you must find a physiologist in your area that is looking for outreach
    opportunities. I knew immediately upon learning about it that I wanted to host PhUn
    Week on my campus, but arranging the physiologist visits seemed daunting. I was
    pleasantly surprised to learn how eager so many physiologists are to promote science to
    K-12 students! If you don’t already know a physiologist, the APS has a list compiled (on the PhUn Week website) of willing scientists.
  3. After the physiologist is lined up, it’s time to register. Again, the website has the
    registration forms to fill out. I have never had a problem getting the freebies, but they are
    first come, first serve, so as soon as you have your physiologist booked, fill out and return
    the registration.
  4. Look at the lessons provided by the APS. I always use the ready-made lessons, but
    depending on my students in each class, I sometimes make minor adjustments to meet
    their needs.
  5. Meet with the physiologist at least a few weeks before the visit. The physiologist will likely want guidance on what you want them to present. When I meet with the physiologist that presents on my campus, I let her know the information I need my kids to get from her. The most successful physiologist visits have involved specimens, and stations that students rotate through. In addition to the specimens and lab equipment, the physiologist brought student volunteers from the university where she teaches. After you make your plans for the physiologist visit, fill out the media release form. Don’t forget to include all the awesome activities you and the physiologist will be exposing to your students!

After you participate in one PhUn Week, you will be hooked! It is incredibly beneficial to your students, and incredibly easy to implement. Not only will you be hooked, but it is highly likely your students will be hooked on science as well.







Anne Joy has served as an APS Frontiers in Physiology Fellow and as a LifeSciTRC Scholar and Fellow. Anne teaches at Driscoll Middle School where she has been honored as Teacher of the Year.

PhUn Times Make Great Science Outreach!

phun-color-smallPhUn Week is an annual week-long event sponsored and encouraged by The American Physiological Society to promote science outreach in K-12 education. The event stands for Physiology Understanding, and encourages K-12 teachers to team up with higher educators for the purpose of developing experiences for young students to learn and explore the world of physiology. The benefit of the relationship is the practical knowledge of designing and implementing age-appropriate lessons, provided by K-12 teachers, paired with the vast expertise of the subject matter, provided by the physiologist. Together, great things can be established.

If you’re a K-12 teacher like me, the thought of attempting PhUn Week for the first time is exhilarating, overwhelming, and a little bit scary. The concept sounds like an incredible experience for students, and a perfect opportunity to make science come alive, but where do you start? How do you design (or sometimes borrow) activities that will work? How do you structure the event? With so much freedom to design an event that works for you, the task can quickly turn grandiose. The best advice APS gave to me was to start small. After completing two years of PhUn Week, I can state with confidence that it does become easier to plan and to build in more layers over time.

Are you considering joining the club? This link will provide all of the details from APS on how to get started and what to do:

In the meantime, below is some advice I’ve gathered from my own experiences of planning and implementing PhUn Week on a high school campus:

1) Know your target audience

-I taught my students, then they taught elementary students, then my students had an opportunity to learn directly from our visiting physiologist. Who do you want to involve in the event?

2) Decide on your time frame and start planning early

-My culminating event was on Friday of PhUn Week, where 6th grade students were bussed to our campus to interact with my high school kids, and when the visiting physiologist was available to come. If you want to involve more than your own students, planning early is crucial in order to complete all necessary paperwork and approval processes.

3) Don’t reinvent the wheel

-A familiar phrase to teachers, but don’t forget to apply it during your planning. The APS site has some great resources shared by previous teachers that can be used or modified to fit your needs. Does your physiologist have access to lab supplies to borrow, or previous lab activities that you can modify to your target audience? With so many details to plan, it isn’t necessary to write all of the lessons from scratch.

 4) Identify your resources, and use them

-What resources do you have available that can enhance your event while reducing some of the teaching from your plate (by jesse)? If your physiologist isn’t available for the entire week, perhaps some graduate students can attend, or perhaps some of your room parents are experts in the field. Inquiry-based lessons that involve student discovery are powerful. You shouldn’t do all of the teaching.

 5) Remember that it’s about the experience for students

-Regardless of the actual time you allocate to PhUn Week, the fact is that students are gaining a new experience to interact with science in a fun and memorable way. Keep it simple, keep the focus on them.

Are you ready to get started? I’d love to hear your ideas! Have you participated in PhUn Week before? What type of event did you establish? What are some words of wisdom you can share from your own experiences?

Are we having PhUn yet? The value of outreach in science and education

The bad news first….


Figure of estimated annual test score gains around the world. The US is in black. Figure from EducationNext.

The United States lags behind other countries in K-12 STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education.   Even the U.S. rate of progress to improve science and math achievement is bested by 24 countries including Latvia, Chile and Brazil, who have the highest growth rates.

The public perception of science is declining.  From 1999 to 2009 the public perception that science and technology are the greatest achievements of the U.S. fell from 47% to 27%.  In addition, only 17% of those surveyed thought U.S. scientific achievement is the best in the world.  When scientists were polled, 85% felt that the public’s lack of understanding of science was a significant problem, and 49% believed that the public has an unrealistic expectation about the speed at which scientific advancements are made.

Federal support for research and development is decreasing.  U.S. federal expenditures on research and development is expected to decrease by 6.5% in fiscal year 2013, and federal spending on research as a percent of GDP will fall to 0.8%, a 40 year low. This is ominous data given that science and technology are required to solve many of the problems facing our country now and in the future. Not to mention the overwhelming evidence that investment in scientific research is a proven economic engine.

Now the good news…it’s time to have some PhUn!

The statements above paint a gloomy picture about the direction of science education and funding. They also raise the question (at least in my mind) of what we, as scientists and teachers, can do to reverse these trends. Is it sufficient for scientists to simply hunker down, spend more time in the lab, submit more grants, and be satisfied with the notion that the public just doesn’t get it, or that it is the problem of teachers to fix STEM education? Are K-12 educators to just sit back and hope that updated content and innovative lesson plans materialize out of thin air?  If these options are not sufficient (they aren’t), then what other choices do we have?  Scientific outreach may be the key, or at least an important part of the solution.

The purpose of scientific outreach is to enhance public awareness and understanding of science.  Outreach does not have to be a daunting, all-consuming task.
From the perspective of a scientist, it can be achieved by making a visit to a classroom, talking with your institute’s public affairs office about an important research finding, or writing a letter to your local representatives. K-12 educators can facilitate this process by being familiar with the ongoing work of local colleges and universities, inviting scientists to the classroom, or even getting involved in summer research projects.  What if you’ve never participated in science outreach before?  It is conceivable, maybe even likely, that this is not in the comfort zone of many scientists. In addition, teachers may not know where to find research opportunities that could benefit their classrooms, or feel comfortable contacting local scientists.  Thankfully, professional organizations like the American Physiological Society (APS) can help.  APS has great resources for physiologists on how to conduct advocacy and K-12 education outreach.


Students learning about the PhUn of heart-healthy exercise. Image from

Among the K-12 outreach activities offered by APS, Physiology Understanding (PhUn) Week is the widest reaching event having taken place annually in the first week of November since 2005. The goal of PhUn Week is to foster interaction between scientists and local schools and now reaches 12000 students annually.  I have been fortunate to be involved with PhUn Week over the last several years and have organized small and large PhUn Week events.  Typically, I bring a team of scientists to a local elementary or middle school where we set up interactive, hands-on stations for the kids.  An example of a station that we might include is to build your own glomerulus (the filtering unit of the kidney).  We spend a few minutes talking about the purpose of the glomerulus and its basic anatomy.  Then, students are presented with a series of different materials from which they can use their knowledge of glomerular function and anatomy to build their own model.  When students are finished building their models, we test them to see how good they filter the “blood”.  You can view this and other activities in this Archive Collection.

The example of PhUn Week illustrates how outreach can foster collaboration between scientists and K-12 educators promote educational resource development to enhance scientific achievement, and improve the public perception of science.  Ultimately, these outreach opportunities will help reinforce the pipeline of the future scientists who will be solving the medical and technological problems of the future. For scientists who are hesitant to interact with the public, don’t underestimate the power that improved public perception of science and scientific literacy has to influence the budget priorities of the federal government.   So let’s get out there and have some PhUn!