From the time my children were in primary school, I visited K1-12 classes and engaged students in various science activities ranging from demonstrations to hands-on activities. In addition to presenting science demonstrations and explaining scientific principles, I wanted to share the discovery process with them and usually concluded my visit by talking about diversity of science careers and explaining how “the lesson” related to subjects they learned everyday in their classrooms. My science “outreach” continued with sporadic visits to schools, either by myself or with colleagues. Sometimes, they were in response to requests for faculty to speak to various groups or to help with a science fair. It was enjoyable to share my interests while working with a wider educational community, hoping to increase awareness of science and what physiology encompasses. The enthusiasm of the students and teachers made my outreach experiences fulfilling and fun! As PhUn Week came into existence, it was a natural extension to my classroom activities. It opened new vistas by providing a network of people, classroom lessons, educational resources and supportive information to increase awareness of physiology careers.
In addition to finding teachers and administrators that welcomed PhUn Week, it was essential to first meet with the teachers to develop a physiology-oriented activity. One of my goals was to work in parallel with the classroom teacher to get students to apply science and math they were being taught to the physiology that was presented. I had not done this to any extent previously and found that it worked very well with teachers who actively participated in the lesson with me. I introduced myself to the class, explained what physiology is and described various careers physiologists and other scientists have. A popular topic was how the lungs and heart function together. We constructed a model with a plastic bottle, tubing and balloons to demonstrate how the lungs inflate and deflate during normal breathing and formulated inquiry-based questions such as, “what causes air movement during normal inspiration and expiration.” This enabled us to illustrate the relevance of Boyle’s Law and discuss principles of pressure-volume relationships, airflow, ventilation, diffusion, gas exchange and even Bernoulli’s Principle using demonstrations, physical laws and basic math. Videos with animations downloaded from the internet were used to show gas exchange and how the lungs function together with the heart and vascular system. Students were divided into groups and guided to develop and discuss a hypothesis related to flow, velocity and pressure relationships in the lungs. The heart as a source of pressure for blood flow was discussed along with its role in systemic and pulmonary circulation. In a hands-on group activity, students were taught how to measure blood pressure and to calculate heart rate and breathing frequency. They speculated about changes they would expect with exercise, measured changes in heart rate and breathing frequency that occurred, and summarized data. We concluded by discussing benefits of a healthy life style and exercise on heart and lung function.
A subsequent follow-up quiz comparing the ability to correctly answer curriculum-based concept questions (without reference to physiology) to questions based on our inquiry activity indicated a positive correlation. We also experimented with “Before” and “After” questions as a way to get students to apply what they learned to the solution of questions that they formulated. Responses to the questions were used to assess understanding of physiology and scientific principles that were presented. Scores indicated that hands-on activity increased the classes’ overall performance. Quizzes also helped to identify concepts that needed further explanation. Teachers provided perspective of the curriculum and accommodated our activity into their lesson plans. Our team gained new perspectives for developing ways to think about and teach physiology and enjoyed interacting with teachers and students. Students were very enthusiastic about their PhUn Week experience. The overall model that we used can provide experience with the scientific method, inferential reasoning, formulating questions, making observations, and collecting data while introducing students to future STEM careers. Our model is flexible and allows concepts to be taught in interesting ways that hold student’s interest and are relevant to every day life. It can be scaled up or down depending on the grade level and we learned that collaboration is important for developing and coordinating appropriate activities and questions for the grade level.
The strength of collaboration:
In addition to the classroom teachers, our Phun Week activity depended on the collaborative efforts of a diverse team consisting of a physiologist, a physiology graduate student, a graphic artist experienced with information technology and an experienced K1-12 teacher who has participated in APS teacher workshops and poster presentations, taken high school students through the exhibit hall at Experimental Biology meetings, talked to students and got them to talk about career plans. This team approach greatly supported and enhanced the transitions between demonstrations, video presentations and hands-on group activities. It also made it possible to work with three different classes sequentially on the day of the activity. The different perspectives of our team members helps to show that science careers also depend on effective communication skills and knowledge of the arts and humanities as well as science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The University of Louisville is supportive of our community outreach. At the end of the school year, our PhUn Week activity was followed up by a field trip to the University where three classes visited my laboratory for a demonstration related to our activity and toured educational facilities in the Health Sciences Center.