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!