An Introduction to Physiology Understanding (PhUn) Week

What is PhUn Week?

PhUn Week is a nationwide outreach program building connections between scientists and their local schools. PhUn Week is distinctive for two reasons:

  • It fosters grassroots partnerships between biomedical researchers and K-12 teachers; and
  • It is carried out into classrooms by “citizen scientists” composed of a senior researcher along with his or her undergraduate, graduate, or postdoctoral students.

Individual physiologists, physiology departments, and regional chapters of the APS all coordinate PhUn Week events and activities during the first full week of November, ranging from single classroom visits to large-scale local events at schools, universities and museums.


The goals of PhUn Week are to:

  • Increase student interest in and understanding of physiology in their lives.
  • Increase teacher recognition of physiology in their standards-based science curriculum.
  • Introduce students to physiology as a possible career.
  • Involve more physiologists in outreach to the students and teachers in their communities.

How Does the PhUn Week Community Interact?

  • LifeSciTRC: PhUn Week Community members submit items in a number of formats including sample activities, posters that have been presented during the EB PhUn Week Poster Session, and journal articles.  These items are searchable using keywords: PhUn Week, K-12 Outreach, and EB Poster Session.
  • EB PhUn Week Poster Session: The session  is a highly interactive poster and networking session, highlighting outreach efforts by diverse physiologists working with preschool through 12th grade students and their teachers. Attendees meet PhUn week participants, learn details about the varied PhUn week activities held the previous year, ask questions, share best practices, and get advice on their own future PhUn week activities.
  • Blog: We hope this blog allows community members to reach a broader community of physiologists and teachers to share strategies for carrying out PhUn Week events and foster partnerships between schools/teachers and researchers.

How can I participate?

The PhUn Week website offers on-demand information and supporting materials. It provides numerous resources for physiologists to use in planning their PhUn week events, curricular materials for teachers to use in their classroom to expand on the physiologist’s visit, and career planning materials for guidance counselors and teachers to use in guiding future physiologists into the field.


PhUn Week History

The program started in 2005 with a field test in a limited number of sites and has grown steadily since. Formative goals for the first 10 years of the program included program growth (sites, participants, and leaders), diversification of program models, and development of a community of practice of physiologists and trainees involved in outreach. Eleven years of member-provided data indicates that the formative goals are being met.  Over 100,000 K-12 students have been reached during the last decade as an increasing pool of physiologists took part in a growing number of events including a number of international events.  The number and types of PhUn Week events have steadily increased as a community of practice has formed to support the program. Future program goals include targeting regional areas for PhUn Week participation, establishing research collaborations to further explore program impacts on students and teachers, and providing on-demand training for physiologists.


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.

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