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.

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