Monthly Archives: November 2017

From graduate student participant to first-time project coordinator: My PhUn Week story.

I was first introduced to the wonderful world of “PhUn Week” as a doctoral student in 2012. A faculty member had partnered with their son’s 6th grade teacher and asked for graduate student volunteers to carry out and organize the festivities. Eager to get out of the research lab and engage in some community outreach efforts, I quickly volunteered. I next found myself reviewing our lesson plan for the digestive system, “How to make poop!”. The first page of the lesson plan read a point of caution: “Only teachers who can deal with planned pandemonium should attempt this”. What had we gotten ourselves in to?

During our weeks of preparation, we collected all the materials necessary to “make poop” and conducted a few test-runs to ensure we were adequate “poop makers”. In November we were greeted by a classroom full of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed 6th graders who fell on the floor in laughter when they heard the word “poop”. After several minutes of wrangling in the forewarned pandemonium, our lesson plan was underway. Never before had I felt so passionate about the importance of mechanical digestion by the teeth or the critical role of pancreatic enzymes. I quickly found myself naturally falling into the role of an educator that day. It was a new sense of satisfaction I hadn’t experienced before, but I knew I wanted more! Not only did my first PhUn Week experience help to inspire those 6th grade students, unbeknownst to me, it also inspired my future career track. I participated again as a graduate student in 2013, but knew that wouldn’t be my last involvement. (Please see the file provided below for more details on the Digestive System activity, The Digestive System (How to Make Poop).pdf)

Fast forward to 2016, I was one year into my faculty position with Butler University’s College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences teaching Anatomy & Physiology to our Master of Physician Assistant Studies students. I found myself missing the community engagement and decided to take on my first PhUn Week as lead project coordinator. I always knew I wanted my first independent PhUn Week event to take place at Pleasant View Elementary (Zionsville, IN). I attended Pleasant View as a kid and knew this would be a great way to give back to an incredible school system. I next sought out the partnership of my sister-in-law and Pleasant View’s STEM/literacy coach, Kathy Drake, M.A. To my pleasant surprise, Kathy’s ambitions were even greater than my own! Next thing I knew, for my first stab at coordinating a PhUn Week event, we had decided to plan activities for the entire school (over 800 Pre-K – 4th grade students and 40 teachers).

With the PhUn Week theme being exercise and health, we decided to focus primarily on cardiovascular physiology. To help with our efforts I recruited 2 peers, senior physiology PhD students from Indiana University School of Medicine, and 12 of my Physician Assistant (PA) students from Butler University. The entire team worked together to create an exciting and diverse lesson plan including the following activities:

  • The Blood Maze
  • Cardiovascular Response to Exercise
  • Careers in Physiology, “What is Physiology?”
  • CPR Awareness
  • The Anatomy Challenge

Pleasant View students were first introduced to the basic anatomy of the heart and circulatory system, followed by a discussion of the importance of oxygen delivery to our entire body (head to toes). To demonstrate this concept, students and their teachers participated in an activity called the “Blood Maze”. Red blood cells (mini red frisbees) were delivered from the left side of the heart to the head and extremities (represented by plastic buckets with pictures taped onto them). Once the oxygen was delivered, students then returned blue blood cells back to the right heart to be sent to the lungs to pick up fresh oxygen. The students were asked to repeat the maze, this time jogging, to demonstrate an increase in blood flow rate. (Please see page 2 of the file provided below for more details on the Blood Maze activity, DrakePhUnWeekActivities2016.pdf)

After completing the maze, students then participated in a variety of exercise activities (jogging, hopping, skipping, jump rope, and hula-hoops) to witness the changes in their own heart rate. My PA students brought along their stethoscopes so they could help students listen to their hearts working hard inside their bodies. The importance of exercise and heart health was further reinforced.

3rd & 4th graders were allotted extra time in order to partake in additional activities including a careers information session during which the fields of physiology research and teaching were introduced to them as well as the PA profession including its similarities and differences to doctors and nurse practitioners. (Please see brief slide deck provided below for reference, DrakeWhatIsPhyisology.pdf)

Students then watched a short CPR educational video and were able to “practice” on a training manikin. The song “Staying Alive” by the Bee Gees was played and used as a tempo guide (a small dance party also ensued). The goal of this session was to bring awareness to what CPR is, why/when CPR would be performed, and what it looks like in order to hopefully remove any fear or discomfort related to student’s perception of CPR.


The final activity, the “Anatomy Challenge”, was a crowd favorite. Working with the Butler PA students, the elementary students solved an anatomy puzzle. Anatomical models of the human torso were used to teach the students about our internal organs, what they look like, their functions, and how they fit together inside our bodies.

Not only did the teachers and students of Pleasant View enjoy their PhUn Week experience, so did my graduate students:

It was really great to watch the kids’ eyes light up as they listened to a heartbeat through the stethoscope. You could see the dots connecting in their brains as we talked about the heart beat getting faster with exercise. It’s always “PhUn” to take what you love and get to spark interest in others and that’s exactly what we got to do at Pleasant View Elementary. As much as I think they enjoyed the days, I think we got a major confidence boost in our abilities to relay information that we’ve been learning over the years as well. – Kelsey Berggren, Butler PA Student ‘18

We walked away from our 2016 PhUn Week efforts confident that we achieved our goal of stimulating young student brains by introducing them to the field of physiology! Deciding to tackle your first independent PhUn Week event can be daunting, but I can say I am now more confident than ever and eager to begin planning for future events. As long as you’re passionate about inspiring the next generation of scientists, that passion will be contagious and you can do no wrong!


Mikaela L. Drake, Ph.D. is an  Assistant Professor of Health  Sciences at the College of  Pharmacy & Health Sciences    Butler University Indianapolis, IN.