Monthly Archives: January 2018

The 5W’s of PhUn Week

I’m happy to say this fall will be my 5th year of participating in Physiology Understanding Week.  While the past 4 years by no mean make me an expert, I have learned a few lessons along the way that others might find helpful.

WHO should you partner with?

One of the first questions I asked when first thinking about doing PhUn week was how I was going to find a partner K-12 educator. Luckily, my institution has a close relationship with a local public charter school that is actually located in a building on campus.  Not everyone will have this same sort of easy-access but many institutions do have existing K-12 relationships that you might utilize.  Does your institution have a Teacher Education program?  These folks can likely provide some contacts to get you started.

Even with my own “built in” connection, I still had to do a bit of internet sleuthing to find the appropriate partner teachers. I started with a general email explaining PhUn week (links to helpful APS websites are helpful), giving a general timeframe, and simply asking if they’d be willing to have a conversation about what collaboration might be possible.  I suggest starting by contacting all the science educators you can find.  With any luck, at least one will reply and you can work from there.

WHAT should you do?

Before I contacted prospective teachers I had some idea of what I wanted to do with my activity. However, I strongly encourage you to stay flexible with your ideas until you understand more of the details of your day and be willing to accommodate the partner teachers’ needs.  Who will your audience be?  The activities for 6th grade general science classes needed to be different than those for the high school anatomy course.  Similarly, because I have integrated PhUn week into the courses I teach (Human Physiology and Research in Health and Sport Science), I had to adjust the activities given the learning goals of the courses in which the students were enrolled.

Your K-12 partner will know their own class, so asking them for ideas and feedback on your ideas is critical. For example, if you’re doing stations, a good technique for keeping students engaged, they may suggest a way for students to summarize and take away key points at each station as well as what the ideal time frame for each station may be.  It is important to gauge the level of background knowledge your K-12 students will have and the partner teacher is best positioned to comment on this.  Look on the LifeSciTRC for age-appropriate examples if you need ideas.

WHERE should it take place?

The logistics of a PhUn week experience can sometimes be a barrier to participation. While many times researchers might want to host students in their lab, this is often not possible.  Thus, you’ll likely be in the K-12 classroom.  I encourage you to visit the space in advance or at minimum ask for a few snapshots of the space so you are more comfortable planning your activity.

WHEN should it happen?

The APS advertises PhUn week as the first week in November, this year November 6-10. It’s great to be able to participate at a time when others are, to share your efforts with APS via social media (make sure to gather photo releases if the school doesn’t have a general form already signed and use #PhUnWeek).  However, sometimes this week won’t work, and that’s okay too!  Don’t feel bound to these dates if something else works better.  Do however, make sure you get your Event Planner in to APS by Oct 1st for free promotional materials.

WHY should you participate?

If you’re reading this blog, you probably don’t need much convincing… It’s worth emphasizing, PhUn week is a great opportunity for all involved.  For APS members, it is essential to communicate our work with the general public and next generation of scientists.  If you involve your students, they are able to practice their communication skills as well as reinforce the concepts and techniques they learn and do.  For the K-12 partner educators, it can often expose them to benefits of APS they are unaware of.  Finally, for the K-12 students, they are exposed to professional scientists, the value of higher education, and physiological concepts that might be new for them.  Lastly, for all involved, PhUn week should be fun!

Best of luck to all as you plan and take part in this year’s PhUn activities. If you’re attending the Experimental Biology conference, be sure to submit your activity for the Sunday morning poster session.  This session consistently reinvigorates me for next year’s activities and I’m amazed at the creativity and dedication of our APS members in promoting our discipline!

Anne R. Crecelius, PhD is an assistant professor in the Department of Health and Sport Science at the University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio. She teaches Human Physiology and a Capstone Research course. She returned to her undergraduate alma mater to join the faculty after completing her M.S. and Ph.D. studying Cardiovascular Physiology at Colorado State University. Her research interest is in the integrative control of muscle blood flow. She is a member of the American Physiological Society (APS), serving on the Teaching Section Steering Committee and the Communications Committee.
Increasing Contact to Scientists and Science-related Careers through PhUn Week Activities

My first exposure to teaching physiology and demonstrating physiological principles through demonstrations was during my undergraduate years serving as a teaching assistant in the human physiology laboratory. It was through these experiences that I discovered a love for teaching physiology through the use of demonstrations. As such, I was thrilled to discover the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s involvement in PhUn week when I started my time there as a graduate student. PhUn week had been a part of our department’s outreach program for a few years before I arrived and consisted of faculty and trainees visiting local area schools and engaging students with activities mainly focused on cardiovascular physiology. I was very happy to join a team of excited scientists dedicated to sharing the wonder of physiology.

A few years later my lab mate, Alicia Schiller, and I were approached by a program on campus that provided science outreach opportunities to nearby Native American tribes inquiring if we would be interested in adapting PhUn week activities into their day-long outreach program. We agreed to recruit volunteers and adapt our activities in order to fit this program and began work on this new endeavor.

We were expected to have approximately 300 middle and high school Native American students present that day so the first necessary task was to begin recruiting help from volunteers. We received quite the impressive response from throughout the Nebraska Physiological Society network (which includes campuses in Omaha; Lincoln; and Vermillion, SD) of faculty, postdocs, graduate students, and undergraduates; 20 in total. Through this we learned that help for education activities is out there and that many people are willing to respond to the call for help.

We then set out to develop the materials and activities we would need for the day of activities, which we were now calling “PhUn Day.” We collected many of the tried and true demonstrations and hands-on activities we had used in previous PhUn week experiences for this age group and also developed a few novel activities. In final, we had nine different activities to be presented at different stations. These included:

  • Heart Rate Changes and Heart Sounds
  • Lung Capacity and Respiration
  • Digestion (Poop Lab)
  • Temperature Sensing/Muscles
  • Eye Dissection (High School only)
  • Diving Reflex
  • Owl Pellet Dissection (Middle School only)
  • Nerves and Reflexes
  • Special Senses/Dermatome Mapping

We also developed a tenth station called, “What Does a Scientist Look Like?” designed to provide participants with an informal encounter with one or more of our volunteers where they could ask questions related to what the daily life of a scientist is like, what kind of education is needed to go into science, and what kind of jobs can you get as a scientist. We’ve found through our previous PhUn week involvements that these times set aside to allow students to freely ask questions about the normal, daily life of our faculty and trainees are some of the most rewarding and fruitful times we spend with students. We wanted to provide a similar encounter for each of our 300 attendees during this event.

We collected all of our demonstrations and background information into a booklet, which is now freely available online at the Nebraska Physiological Society Outreach Website. Because this was also a unique opportunity for us to collect data on the usefulness and attitudes toward these types of demonstrations and events, we developed two surveys. One survey given before the event would serve as a baseline measure of students’ understanding of physiology and attitudes toward scientific careers. The second, paired survey given after the event was to provide data on the ability of the event to change these factors. One thing we learned throughout this experience was how time consuming and demanding preparing for an event like this could be. We owe an immense debt of gratitude to all of our volunteers and affiliated staff members that assisted us in preparing for this event. Science is very much a team effort and so are events and activities such as these.

The evening before the event we gathered our volunteers together at the site and held an “orientation” of sorts. We divided up the stations among the group and provided time for the volunteers to acquaint themselves with the material and do a dry run of the activity. Because many of our volunteers had not done a PhUn week before or because they were doing a novel activity, we knew that this orientation time would be integral to the success of the event. It also served as an opportunity for bonding among the volunteers, many of whom were from different campuses.


The day of the event was a whirlwind of activity. Students filled the room and rotated through the stations, talking with the volunteers and asking scores of questions along the way. We’ve always been curious if our PhUn week endeavors have an impact on the kids we’re interacting with, and because we took survey evaluations before and after the event, this time we were able to measure our impact. Through the day’s activities and interactions we significantly increased students’ understanding of physiology and their interest in scientific careers. What was most striking about the impact was that half of students who initially stated that they were unsure about their interest in scientific careers before the event changed to being interested in scientific careers after the event. We’ve recently published the results of our surveys in AJP Advances in Physiological Education.

We think that this may be one of the largest impacts that events like PhUn week have, in reaching students who have little exposure to scientific careers and the scientists who work in them. These type of events provide that exposure and contact, particularly in demographics where students may have little opportunity to interact with scientists and observe career opportunities in physiology through channels readily available to them. We don’t know for sure if these students who increased their excitement toward science and scientific careers will continue to be interested and start a pursuit towards those careers, but events such as PhUn week help provide the beginning steps towards potential interest. We were encouraged by our data as it suggested that these events and connections do have a meaningful impact in student’s understanding and interest in physiology. Hopefully we can someday consider some of the students we reach through these events as colleagues.

Bryan Becker is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Alabama at Birmingham where he studies neuronal control of blood pressure and cardio-renal function. Bryan has been involved in PhUn week activities since 2011 as a graduate student at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Bryan is also a current member of the Careers Opportunities in Physiology Committee with the APS and is interested in how events such as PhUn week and other educational outreach activities increase students’ interest in STEM fields.