Monthly Archives: September 2018

A PhUn Week Experience Influenced by Excitement


I was initially asked to participate in PhUn Week by a staff member within the American Physiological Society (APS) headquarters. Reluctantly, I agreed to put one more activity on my busy schedule.  As the time approached for the PhUn Week presentation to an elementary school group, an exceptional amount of thought came into what I would present to engage the students.  I don’t exactly remember the minute details of what my first PhUn Week presentation was about; however, I will never forget the enthusiasm and excitement shown by the elementary students once they became engaged and participated in the presentation.  I was immediately convinced that PhUn Week presentations delivered all over the United States were helping to dispel the myth that “science was boring and very difficult.”  As I recall, the PhUn Week presentation caused the students to ask a lot of relevant and also irrelevant questions.  The point was that they were not afraid to raise their hands and to make a comment or ask a question about cardiovascular or renal function.  One memorable moment was the excitement that the participants showed when the trace of their EKGs were displayed upon a screen and their heartbeats were magnified over a speaker system.  As the crowd watched the tracing and heard the sounds of the heartbeats from their brave classmate who volunteered, they simultaneously placed their hands over their heart to feel if their own hearts had a similar beat.  As a result, the number of volunteers tremendously increased and so did their heart rates. During this and other PhUn Week presentations, the initial “ice-breaking” moments opened up the excitement and many possibilities and understanding of physiology.

My PhUn Week presentation experience was not only unique with elementary students, the excitement and engagement was exhibited throughout elementary, middle and high schools. During the various educational stages of the participants, there was something that made them more curious about understanding physiology, which resulted in questions, or something they could relate to and wanted to share with the group.  The responses were observed in classrooms in Augusta, GA, the inner city of Washington, D.C and various suburbs in Maryland.  In my experience, the excitement and curiosity for physiology did not significantly vary, whether the PhUn Week presentations were given to a science interest group or to a gym full of elementary or high school students.  To my surprise, the PhUn Week presentations were also well-received by teachers and administrators.  One would think that the PhUn Week presentations would be an opportunity for the teachers to take a well-deserved break, grade papers or simply prepare for the next class.  Instead, the teachers watched intensely and on many occasions, interjected scientific principles previously discussed in the class.

My preparation and prompts utilized for PhUn Week have evolved over the years. Initially, the presentation depended upon WiFi connections to play videos, the transportation of electronic equipment that would display EKG tracings and speakers for the magnification of heart sounds, to the construction of a urinary system out of plywood, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipes and plastic containers. Out of all the PhUn Week presentations, the construction and transportation of the urinary system was the most eventful.  Although, the system was tested, which included pouring a “small amount” of water through a funnel, which was connected to the aorta and the water was divided at an intersection of the PVC pipe to depict the renal arteries and filtered through additional funnels connected to polyethelyne (PE) tubing, to depict the ureters.  The flow of the liquid through the kidneys (the filtering component) down into the ureters, which was connected by considerable amount of clay, was the area of most concern.  On the day of the presentation, and after a brief introduction, I asked for a volunteer to come up on stage to assist me with the process.  My instruction was: to please pour a “small amount” of water upon prompting.  Little did I know that the fourth grader was very excited, and he poured almost a half-gallon of liquid into the urinary system display at one time.  As expected, the ureters, which consisted of PE tubing, could not withstand the large of amount of volume and pressure exerted upon the system.  As a physiologist, we are trained to “think on our feet.” My first action was to stop the flow of fluid, the second was to reinforce the PE tubing funnel connection with more clay.  Paper towels were needed, of course, to clean up the “spill of excitement” on the floor.  During that demonstration, the students were able to successfully see how red “blood” goes through the urinary system to produce a clear or “light-yellow tinted urine.”  The class and teachers were very patient, excited, appreciative, and helpful during this certain PhUn Week presentation.  Now, I often think about other ways in which a hands-on urinary system could have been presented to a group of elementary school students.  Nevertheless, the excitement experienced by everyone that day will go down as one of my most memorable PhUn Week presentations in more ways than one.

Over the years, I have looked forward to the PhUn Week presentations and have been asked to return to certain sites on multiple occasions. The impact and appreciation exhibited by the students, teachers and administrators are tangible: you are making a lasting impression upon young students.  I received numerous e-mails from the PhUn Week participants expressing their gratitude of my presentations, and excitement for the learning of physiology.  My most prized possessions from the PhUn Week presentations are the hand-written cards and letters from the many students.  The most creative cards also include a drawing from the particular presentation, possibly including a spill during the constructed urinary system.  I must say that PhUn Week has generated an exposure to students of all ages for an excitement in the field/possibilities of physiology.  Activities such as PhUn Week are vital for developing and continuing the “pipeline” for the biomedical workforce.  Although the participation in these PhUn Weeks were considered an added event on my schedule, I am convinced that it is very important for the understanding and future of physiology.  I am also energized by the excitement exhibited by the PhUn Week participants, and students.


Dr. Dexter Lee graduated from Jackson State University with a Bachelor’s degree in Biology, proceeded to get a Masters’ of Sciences degree from University of Akron Ohio, and finally obtained a PhD from the University of Missouri-Columbia. His research focuses on the acquisition of hemodynamic data using mouse models of chronic hypertension to identify molecular markers and inflammatory cytokines that regulate blood pressure through renal-dependent mechanisms. Currently, his laboratory is studying the role of peroxisome proliferator activated receptor-alpha and its regulatory effect on inflammatory markers during hypertension.


Years of PhUn Week!


My first foray into K-12 education was when I volunteered to my daughter’s second grade teacher to come and do science in her classroom during the year. Since that time thirty years ago and subsequently as the scientist-in-residence for our school district, I have routinely taught portions of first and second grade science, visited all of the seventh grade classrooms with science activities, and gone with my university students to teach renal physiology to high school students.  Thus, getting involved in PhUn Week was not much of a stretch for me.




By this time, I have done PhUn Week with the entire seventh grade annually since 2006. I missed 2005 because I was a guest lecturer at Africa University in Zimbabwe during the fall semester when the PhUn Week pilot was launched.  My initial involvement with PhUn Week was to visit the classrooms of my 7th grade teacher colleague and former APS Frontiers in Physiology teacher Sally Stoll.  Since she taught all 7th grade science and life science was a large portion of her curriculum, we planned an entire unit on physiology that was supplemented by the exercise activities that we offered together for the students.  We started with having the students measure their pulse before and after light exercise and expanded to having the students determine their heart rates, breathing rates, and skin temperatures before and after exercise.  Adding measurement of skin temperature not only brings in the issue of where to measure skin temperature and the concept of where the body thermostat is but also exhibits true homeostasis as while heart and breathing rates increase with light exercise, skin temperature almost always decreases with exercise!  During this collaboration, Ms. Stoll was teaching life science during the fall semester so we could plan PhUn Week around the same time as the national launch in 2005.


After Ms. Stoll retired, Maria May (a former student of mine when I taught animal physiology to biology majors) came on as the 7th grade science teacher.  She was perfectly willing to have me come to her classroom and do similar activities with her students; however, due to state and district curricular changes life science is not now the main topic for 7th grade science.  Thus, the effects of exercise on heart and breathing rates and skin temperature is not quite the culmination of an entire unit but still fits into the curriculum during the spring semester.  For the last few years, we have conducted our PhUn Week activities in the spring but signed up for PhUn Week in the fall along with everyone else.  I now spend one whole day doing the exercise activities with the students (teams of students are assigned different types of exercise like running in place, jumping jacks, step tests, and running in the hall), one whole day talking about careers in physiology, and one whole day doing a case study activity diagnosing kidney diseases with fake urine for Ms. May’s students.  The kidney disease case studies were written for the APS by current Education Committee chair Jeff Osborn a number of years ago and I use them routinely with students from middle school through college.


Now as an experienced science outreach person, I can verify that all levels of students love science activities. I have even taken science activities to the non-profit day care center on whose board I serve as a summer activity for 3-year-olds on up.  My college students have affirmed to me that they learned renal physiology better by having to teach it to advanced biology and anatomy and physiology high school students.  All science professionals need to be able to communicate their science with others for the future of science and their careers!

Barb Goodman received her Ph.D. in Physiology from the University of Minnesota and is currently Professor in the Division of Basic Biomedical Sciences of Sanford School of Medicine of the University of South Dakota. She has been involved in numerous education and communication initiatives of the APS since 1990 including co-authoring two learning cycle units for the APS Frontiers in Physiology Curricular Development program, sponsoring numerous teachers in her laboratory, and serving as a physiologist-in-residence at a number of APS Summer Teaching Forums.