Each year, we celebrate PhUn (Physiology Understanding) Week at a local elementary school in Georgia. Reaching out to elementary-aged students allowed us to surprise and excite young students about the role of physiology in their daily lives. Our goal was to inspire them to have an open mind about who can become a scientist. Studies show that between the ages of 6 and 15, women and minorities lose confidence in their ability to thrive in mathematics and the sciences (1, 2). Therefore, our goal was to demonstrate, to a diverse group of students, that PhUn is what you make it!
Our PhUn consisted of 4 phases: 1) Draw a Scientist, 2) Dress a Scientist, 3) Meet a Scientist and 4) The Scientist Within.
Phase 1: Draw a Scientist. This phase served as our “Scientific Bias Screening”. The goal was to dispel assumptions about who was and could be scientists.
- Prior to our arrival, we requested teachers to encourage students to draw whatever they considered a scientist.
- When we arrived, we allowed students to describe their pictures to the class.
This phase was necessary, as it is important to encourage teacher participation since teachers are on the forefront of motivating students daily. Teachers are responsible for shaping and encouraging students to pursue various career opportunities, so having an entire community of teachers to encourage students of all backgrounds (gender, race, socioeconomic, etc.) to pursue STEM fields is critical to promoting awareness of the opportunities and needs within STEM. Furthermore, allowing students to confront their implicit biases about scientists provided a teachable moment.
Phase 2: Dress a Scientist. This phase was important to de-mystify scientific tools and make them relatable.
- Prior to our arrival, we assembled a “science” bag with laboratory tools (conical tubes, beakers, pipettors, etc.), personal protective equipment (gloves, lab coat, eye googles) and fun items (“crazy” wig). We included items that are used in the typical physiology lab – we decided to leave heavy analysis equipment out of the bag!
- The teacher selected a volunteer student to be dressed as a scientist.
- Classmates were asked to name items that the volunteer student needed to “look” like a scientist.
- After removing the named items from the bag, students were then asked to guess the utility/function of said items. Guiding questions were used to assist.
- We explained how each item is used and what other purposes it could serve.
- The item was given to the student scientist to put on or hold.
- After emptying the bag, students take group pictures with the scientist they dressed.
Many students feel overwhelmed and ignorant because they haven’t been exposed to laboratories. Our goal was to allow students to touch and learn about these tools. As a result, science became a lot less foreign and intimidating.
Phase 3: Meet A Scientist. The phase served to motivate students to consider themselves capable of contributing to scientific discovery.
- We introduced ourselves as scientists and explained our areas of research.
- A picture of a “Mad Scientist” was projected. Students were asked if we looked like mad scientists.
- Pictures of scientists from diverse backgrounds were then projected.
- We described our journey to becoming scientists from high school to college to graduate school. We also shared personal stories of our experiences at each level, explaining that determination is the key to success.
- We posed the question “Do you ever ask why…why…but why?”
- We explained that scientists use the scientific method to answer the “whys” and that each of them possessed the important quality of being inquisitive and that they were indeed “Scientists in Training”.
We were aware that there are multiple reasons students may not be excited about science and scientists – namely it can be seen as nerdy or dangerous. As we clearly do not typify what a “Mad Scientist” appears to be, we aimed to expand the definition what scientist appear to be. The goal was to help them realize that anyone with an interest in learning how things worked can be a scientist.
- We described the cardiovascular system in health and disease.
- Students were then instructed to form a hypothesis regarding blood flow in a healthy blood vessel versus and unhealthy blood vessel.
- Step 2- Measure 60 ml of the liquid into the cup.
- Step 3- Start the timer and use the coffee stirrer to suck up and drink all of the liquid from the cup. Be sure you drink until you reach the bottom of the cup. Do it as quickly as you can but only suck the liquid through the coffee stirrer. Stop the timer as soon as the liquid is gone.
- Step 4- Record the amount of time it took to drink the 60 ml of liquid.
- Step 5- Repeat steps 2-5 again but this time use the drinking straw to suck up the water.
- Step 6- Repeat steps 2-5 two more times so you have run each experiment three times. Record the amount of time it took to drink the 60 ml of liquid.
- Step 7- When you have recorded your data, go to the APS Physiology Understanding Week website (www.phunweek.org) and share your findings with other APS Junior Physiologists.
- We assisted the students in performing the Healthy Heart Experiment II: Does What We Eat Matter to Our Hearts? http://www.the-aps.org/phun/pdfs/PhizzyPostcard.pdf
The students certainly enjoyed this Phase the most! This phase served to teach students about the cardiovascular systems and how science is already an active component of their lives. By showing the students a fun way to perform experiences, we removed some negative stereotypes about scientists and sparked interests in science we hope are lifelong. Most importantly, students were able to identify themselves as scientists and internalize their abilities to thrive in STEM.
Ultimately, we received plenty of participation and interaction with the students and teachers. We were able to surprise and excite students to re-evaluate who could be a scientist all the while, we were also able to encouraged students to believe that they all have the potential to become scientists themselves. Beyond being rewarding, this event was critical to demonstrating how diversity in STEM is critical for recruiting the next generation of scientists. Seeing two minority women be confident, capable, and qualified inspired the students to ask questions they may not have felt comfortable with in other environments. It also allowed them to believe that being a scientist is possible and that PhUn is what you make it!
Expose elementary students to scientist from diverse backgrounds
Debunk the myth of who a scientist is and looks like
Empower students to view themselves as scientists-in-training
Phase 1: Draw-A-Scientist – Scientific Bias Screening
Prior to arrival
Teachers will instruct students to draw a picture of a scientist
Select students to describe their drawings
Phase 2: Dress-A-Scientist
- Assemble a science bag
- Select a volunteer
- Ask ‘What items does he/she need to look like a scientist”
- Select a student to provide an answer
- Collect item from science bag
- Give item to volunteer
- Explain purpose/function of item
- If items remain in science bag, pull item out…explain
Phase 3: Mad Scientist – Compare and Contrast
Show picture of mad scientist on PowerPoint
Introduction yourself as a scientist
Ask “Do I look like this?”
Explain that scientist look like the average person.
Show pictures of diverse scientists
Encourage students to view themselves as scientists