Author Archives: Margaret Stieben

The Importance of Underrepresented Minority (URM) Representation in Physiology

In 2000 Congress voted to approve the adoption of legislation based on the recommendation of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to assist in ways to increase the number of underrepresented minorities in medicine [1]. Subsequently, the National Science Foundation (NSF), showed that the number of African Americans who held a doctorate or master’s degree increased by two-fold as of 2016 since 1996 [2]. Conversely, it was shown that black faculty representation was not reflected in the increase in minority trainees at universities such as John Hopkins University and other universities [3, 4]. This lack of representation diminishes the overall opportunity for one to see and attain mentorship at early stages of career development. The National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME) released that only 5% of African Americans were meeting college readiness benchmark scores in 2012 as compared to 32% for white students [5]. These alarming findings show that from an early stage many African American students are still not on a path of upward mobility and success. The discrepancy in college readiness between African American students and their white counterparts is clearly exhibited in the underrepresentation of African Americans in mid-level science positions to national administrative positions in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Ultimately, if the majority of medical researchers are white, and illnesses such as diabetes and hypertension impact a significant number of African Americans, this creates a pressing need for African Americans to have a greater involvement in medical research. In lieu of this, there is a burgeoning need for improvement to promote the inclusion of underrepresented minorities in STEM fields. In accordance, organizations like the American Physiological Society (APS), have developed several programs targeted toward minority outreach in their unremitting commitment to diminishing disparities in STEM.


From the Porter Physiology Development Fellowship to Physiological Understanding (PhUn) Week, APS has repeatedly demonstrated a collective interest in the success of underrepresented minorities. The Porter Physiology Development Fellowship prioritizes awarding successful underrepresented students who may be at institutes with limited funding and resources. In addition to financial support, APS encourages outreach in the field of physiology in its Graduate Student Ambassador Program. This program specifically functions in educating college students from distinct backgrounds and upbringings on the subject of physiological research and associated career opportunities. Likewise, PhUn week serves to introduce younger students from marginalized communities to the field of physiology. These kinds of programs are paramount in reducing the gap in representation for underrepresented groups, not only in physiology, but across STEM fields altogether.

Originally, when the idea of Physiological Understanding (PhUn) week was introduced to us by Dr. Camilla Wenceslau, a principal investigator in the field of physiology and a member of APS. We were unaware APS implemented programs as such which are directed towards community engagement. However, further research on the services entailed for the program, and its impact on the communities it represented, made us enthusiastic to be a part of an experience. We learned PhUn week is a national outreach initiative to help bring scientists to local schools, which aligns with our goal of enlightening younger underrepresented students in a crucial period of their lives. This opportunity to portray the beauty, strength, and integrity of science and physiology related career pathways for students underrepresented in STEM was a driving force for us, graduate students at the University of Toledo, to pursue PhUn week activities.


We identified a local public school with a large population of underrepresented minorities. Accordingly, we contacted the appropriate staff to set a date, but now we had to decide what activities would be done, who would help, and what kind of impact we hoped to leave on the students. We each decided to create stations and pursue activities that fit our creative and educational interest.


At the beginning of the class, we held a 10-minute introduction. For this, we discussed the goals of PhUn week, how APS influenced our professional lives and what opportunities a career in physiology could look like for students. Subsequently, a question and answer session regarding the students’ career aspiration and what they think is related to physiology started prior before performing the activities. For the activities, the students rotated through 4 stations that addressed a different theme of physiology. At the 1st station, titled Inside the Cell, students were given culture dishes, hardened clay, and clear slime (cytoplasm) and discussed the different part of the cell. Afterwards, the plate bottom and lids were parafilm closed and given as quasi-3-dimensional representation of the cell for students to keep. At the Vascular Function Station (station 2), students learned about the importance of circulatory vessel integrity and used tubes of varying diameters to represent what healthy and non-healthy blood flow looked like. At Dress like a Scientist (station 3), students dressed like what they thought a physiologist should look like and had mini-photo shoots. They were also given a little information on the path to becoming a physiologist and were able to ask additional questions. Finally, at the Heart Rate Race (station 4) students measured their heart rate before and after performing a sprint exercise via holding their wrist. The classes were concluded with distribution of PhUn week bags and a group photo.


Opportunities as such are not common in many places, and therefore, serve as potential catalyst for scientific inquiry amongst children. Although a single event, or person, or action may not completely change the course of a child, it could help orient them to new opportunities that they may not have considered. Underrepresented minority students in science are many times, not exposed to careers in science and technology and, if they are the presenter is often from an unrelatable background. Therefore, seeing African American graduate students can serve as a potential catalyst for the pursuit of careers in physiology and can more authentically portray the success and importance of representation as a means for inspiration.

Darren Mikael Gordon1, Jonnelle Edwards1, Abdul-Rizaq Hamoud2, Ahmed Abokor1, Camilla Ferreira Wenceslau1

1 Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, The University of Toledo College of Medicine & Life Sciences, Toledo, OH

2 Department of Neurosciences, The University of Toledo College of Medicine & Life Sciences, Toledo, OH

Darren is a 5th year MD/PhD student candidate, Jonnelle Edwards is a 3rd year PhD student, Abdul-Rizaq Hamoud and Ahmed Abokor are 2nd year PhD students at the University of Toledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences. Dr. Camilla Ferreira Wenceslau is an Assistant Professor at the University as well. All have an invested interest in outreach and believe programs like PhUn week can be paramount to forwarding the aims of progressing diversity in leadership and science.
Human Diseases Graphic Novels

Over my 23 years as an educator, I have noticed that students have an inherent student fear of written assessments, and this when combined with the procrastination and poor management typical of the teenage years, creates a perfect recipe for frustration. Students who do well in class tend to gravitate toward visual and very hands-on techniques to enhance their learning. I have been fortunate enough to create my own curriculum for my Physiology classes, and have implemented many hands-on activities into my classes. I constantly explore different options for assessments which will enable students to learn while at the same time taking responsibility for their own learning. Some examples of these assessments are the creation of heart models to study the cardiovascular system and measurement of heart rate using student-built Arduino based heart rate monitors.

Students were receptive to my innovative assessments. Yet there was a general lack of enthusiasm when it came to listening to peer presentations on common nervous system diseases. Since the material was important for them to assimilate, I tried various techniques to engage them during these presentations, including offering extra credit, but it was not as successful as I had hoped because some students stubbornly refused to pay attention.

Last year, I was selected as a Teacher Fellow and when the time for planning Phun week came around, I decided to implement the use of graphic novels in my class to solve the problem of student engagement. Accordingly, I gave students 2 weeks to research 2 diseases of any organ system in the body. The requirement was that they create graphic novels of their disease, and represent through their art, the inputs and outputs of systems leading to pathological conditions. Initially, students stared at me. What, they thought, could this crazy woman possibly be thinking? Who ever heard of graphic novels in biology? I listened to my students’ concerns, and reiterated that this assignment was replacing their unit exam on the nervous system. And that did it……

Suddenly students were chatting, brainstorming and throwing out ideas. Some asked me clarification questions, others wanted to know if their chosen diseases were acceptable. Giving students class time to complete their assignment, while I circled around asking

and answering questions, seemed to help student engagement. Everyone was on task, and their graphic novels grew and finessed.

When everyone was done, I contacted our Technical Services Supervisor and Digital

Commons Manager, who digitized student graphic novels on the digital commons.

Student graphic novels were evaluated on the basis of creativity, accuracy and connections to other organ systems. This assessment was a success because students realized that they had to take responsibility for their own learning,and therefore worked harder and faster than before. Working in groups of 3-4 also helped them discuss and finesse ideas and research.

Sowmya Anjur received her doctorate in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from Iowa State University, Ames. She also has two Masters degrees in Clinical Biochemistry and Agricultural Biochemistry from Bharathiar University, India. She is currently is a Science Faculty member at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, a residential school for students gifted in math and science. During her 23 years as an educator, she has developed her classes to be mostly student-centered with many hands-on activities to develop and nurture student creativity and enhance articulation. She incorporates high tech, challenging and inter-disciplinary projects such as the construction of heart models, Arduino heart rate and blood pressure monitors and other bioengineering

topics into her Physiology classes. She has been a member of the American Physiological

Society for several years and was selected as an APS Teacher Fellow in 2018.


A PhUn Week with 1st Graders That Almost Wasn’t: Tips, Lessons, and Luck!

I hesitated to participate in PhUn week, because I wasn’t sure my undergraduate and teaching skills could translate to a K-12 setting and that I could find class for the activity. Luckily, several APS colleagues with amble PhUn Week experience were relentlessly encouraging.

            Start early to identify a teacher/class partner and don’t give up. My PhUn week nearly ended before it began. In July, APS emails out the annual announcement to complete and send in the PhUn week planner for the November event. This gives teachers the opportunity to squeeze the event into a busy Fall semester. Many PhUn Week leaders work with their own child’s class. Not having children, I talked to friends with children about PhUn Week and identified five candidate teachers. I sent each an email describing PhUn Week as an annual APS-sponsored educational outreach program and the Exercise & Nutrition themes; the PhUn Week Save the Date flyer and link to the website were also included. I named and CCed the person who referred them to me, and explained the event could be held another week in November.

Five invites – not one response. By this time school had just started. Where to find a K-12 teacher? Ask friends in non-science groups, community organizations, or hobby-based groups; home-owner association and neighborhood list serves; the school down the street; the Boys & Girls Club. I have a friend married to a pastor and asked whether she knew a teacher in the congregation who might be interested in PhUn Week. “Lisa B. – here’s her email.” I edited my PhUn Week email with the Save the Date flyer attached, hit ‘Send’, and crossed my fingers. Lisa, the lead teacher for 1st grade at a school near my house, quickly accepted. She asked if I’d be willing to include Sylvia P.’s 1st grade class; they regularly team-teach the combined group of thirty-six 1st graders. So relieved and excited, I replied, “Of course!”

            Logistics and assessment of student preparedness. When? Where? Resources? What are students prepared to learn? We ask similar questions when preparing lectures or seminars for our own students. By phone and email, Lisa and I made preliminary plans. We initially selected the Friday of PhUn Week, but due to a school event we changed the date to the following Friday. Flexibility and adaptability help maintain the spirit of outreach.

            With a big extended family, I have met many 1st graders. They are pure energy. Now multiply by 36! The theme from Jaws played in my head. “We’re gonna’ need a bigger boat.” Recruit colleagues and students. My husband Mike is an APS member and exercise physiologist with a bachelor’s in physical education. “I was wondering when you’d finally ask me?!” He had been secretly developing an activity. He thought it’d be fun to teach basic integrative physiology of heart, lung and blood vessels that ensures adequate oxygen delivery to organs and muscles during at rest vs. after a meal vs. exercise. Many topics address aspects of exercise or nutrition. Select a topic you are genuinely excited about and take an approach suitable for the students. Be confident knowing that their teacher has experience and expertise to guide you.

Six weeks before the event, we met Lisa and Sylvia in their classroom where the activity would be held. We explained the activity; they explained what 1st graders were ready to learn. The 1st grade health and science curriculum incorporates The Anatomy Apron that teaches the basic anatomy of major organs (e.g., heart, lungs, gut), concept that organs work together, and importance of good exercise and nutrition habits for all ages and physical abilities1. Students work through the module in spring; PhUn Week activity and timing worked well. They encouraged us to keep terminology simple but accurate; 1st graders are smart and developing a vocabulary. They gave us a copy of The Anatomy Apron. It provided examples of grade-appropriate terminology and illustrations, which helped us tailor the activity to complement the 1st grade health and science curriculum. The classroom had a large dedicated area where the combined group of students regularly met and could easily view a big Smart Board®. Finally, we’d have 50 minutes for the activity.

            Preparing for the activity. While preparedness and organization are critical, we had to consider word choice and account for questions and interjections. You ask a 1st grader a question – they will answer – right or wrong – succinctly or extensively. We patterned the activity after an American Heart Association pre-K activity, Where does the blood go?2, which teaches students blood is pumped to first to the lungs to pick oxygen then flows back to the heart before it is pumped to the body. We elaborated on the circulatory pattern to include blood flow through different organs to ‘give’ oxygen to organs so they can ‘work’ and ‘do what they need to do’; then, through veins blood flows back to the heart and then to the lungs to pick up oxygen. We printed heart, lung, artery, and vein in different colors on individual large cards; on two additional cards we printed stomach and muscle in lower case on one side and STOMACH and MUSCLE in upper case on the other; the latter two cards would be used to indicate digestive and exercise states. In groups of 6, students would pass a red plastic ball, which represented blood would be passed heart à Lung à Heart à artery à stomach à muscle à vein à Heart. around the circuit at different speeds to represent differences in blood flow during different activity states. For the introduction, we found images of heart, lung, vascular circuit, and ChooseMyPlate from on-line sources3,4. Luckily, for their own activities Lisa and Sylvia had students work in preassigned groups of 6. Implementing the teachers’ proven practices familiar to the students, we’d work with those same 6 student groups and made a set of cards for each group. Each group needed a leader; we recruited two exercise physiology graduate students from my husband’s lab (Dylan and Hyoseon) for a total of 6 adults. We had a practice run. I sent Lisa an email with details and called her to answer any questions. We were set.

            Let the PhUn begin. We arrived at the school early, supplies in hand, and a bit nervous. No matter what happens or what is said or asked, stay on track, have fun. Students are attentive and love learning. The teacher(s) will help students maintain focus. When her class gets riled, Lisa says three words, “Class, class, class.”; to which they reply “Yes, yes, yes.” and settle back down. We began with a short definition of physiology: the study of how your body organs each work and how all organs work together to keep you moving and breathing.

            We introduced ourselves as physiologists who study exercise and kidneys. One student quietly asked, ‘You study how we pee?’ Holding back laughter, I answered, ‘That’s right!’ We projected simple anatomically correct diagrams of heart and lungs on the Smart Board® to facilitate discussion with the students about basic anatomy and function. We wanted them to tell us what they knew. They eagerly answered questions and shared what they knew about the heart, lungs, and other organs. 1st graders want the world or whoever is listening to know what they know. Many students already knew the brain ‘tells other organs what to do’! They knew that when the chest ‘gets big’ the lungs fill with air and oxygen is added to blood. One student explained ‘if food goes down your air pipe you might die, but you can do this’ as he mimicked the Heimlich maneuver; then he clarified ‘air can go down your food pipe, you’ll just burp like this (he burped), but you’ll be ok’. He was totally serious. With straight faces we validated him, and got back to the script.

            1st graders know the body needs oxygen, the lung brings in oxygen, and the heart pumps blood around the body. I was not that smart in 1st grade. Mike held up a red ball to represent blood and introduced a new concept: first the heart pumps blood to lungs where it picks up oxygen, then blood returns to the heart, and then the heart pumps the blood to organs – muscle and stomach – then blood flows through veins back to the heart. He tracked the circuit: Heart à Lung à Heart à artery à stomach à muscle à vein à Heart. He told them we’d be learning how the heart, lung and blood work to make sure your organs get enough oxygen whether you’re resting or eating or exercising. He asked them to get into their work groups, as the teachers guided them. For each group of 6 students, 5 sat with cards labeled Heart, artery, stomach, muscle, and vein to form a circle around the 6th student who held the Lung card; each group had an adult leader. Mike asked the class, “What happens when you sit quietly, listening to Ms. B. and Ms. P.?” With stomach and muscle in small font, students slowly passed the red ball around the circuit as the individual group leader directed and explained oxygen loading and delivery. Next, “After lunch, do your muscles or stomach and intestines need more blood?” Students answered “Stomach and intestines!” They flipped the stomach to STOMACH to represent greater blood flow and calmly pass the ball through the circuit again. Next, “What happens when you exercise? Does your heart beat slow or fast? How slow or fast do you breathe when you exercise?”, Why?” “Now which needs more blood – your stomach or muscle?” They flipped stomach card back to lower case, flipped muscle to MUSCLE, and passed the ball through the circuit at a faster, louder pace.

The take home message. With students still sitting in groups, we reminded them how important daily exercise and good nutrition are to heart, lung and overall health and asked them to name different types of exercise. We encouraged non-competitive exercise and daily exercise with family and friends. Finally, students grouped themselves based on organ and lifted their cards as they shouted out their organ in the correct circulatory order: “Heart! Lung! Heart! Artery! Stomach! Muscle! Vein! Back to the Heart”!

We’ve worked with these phenomenal teachers for two consecutive years. They have patiently helped tailor the PhUn activity to their students each year        . We ask for feedback and tweek accordingly. The activity runs smoothly, even when it doesn’t. The first year just after Mike asked about changes during exercise, there was a fire drill. What happened next was nothing short of amazing. The students quietly set the cards and balls down and formed two lines; we followed suit. The teachers escorted us out to the main parking lot where all other students and staff were lined up. Everyone was perfectly quiet. Once we got the all clear, the teachers lead us in single file back to the classroom where we finished the activity. “Keep calm, and carry on.” Trust your teacher, trust yourself and have PhUn.



1) The Anatomy Apron No. 2534M, written by J. Bryson and L. Vessuto with illustrations by J. Nunamaker and J. Zeigler, ©1986 Educational Insights

2) FortheClassroom/ElementaryLessonPlans/Elementary-Lesson-Plans_UCM_001258_Article.jsp#.XKRJQIX9qL3



Alice Villalobos received her biology from Loyola Marymount University and her Ph.D. in comparative physiology from the University of Arizona-College of

Medicine. After teaching Anatomy & Physiology II and Introduction to Human Nutrition in the Department of Biology at Blinn College guest lectures at Texas A& M University on the topics of brain barrier physiology and the heavy metal for the last 5 years, she has moved recently to Texas Tech University. There she will join the Department of Kinesiology & Sports Management and teach Physiological Nutrition for Exercise.
Physiology in the Caribbean

Often people think of Puerto Rico just as a place to vacation, but they are wrong. There are many people living here who get up every day and work in a variety of areas looking towards the future like those who work in the fields of science and physiology. There are academic physiologists on our island that teach our new generations in the classroom but at the same time perform research. Students who choose to pursue a PhD degree can either stay on our island or continue to study in the United States. Once they are done they might either want to come back, stay in America or travel elsewhere. In many different places worldwide, you can find Puerto Ricans working towards giving back and improving our island, even if they cannot physically be here. When scientists decide to stay, we often want to encourage and educate our students to follow their passions. On our island at the K-12 level many of the students initially know about few career options and only want to be doctors or lawyers since that is all they have heard about from their parents or families. They don’t know that there are other careers available to them in the sciences. Some students go to college thinking “I’m afraid; I don’t know what I’m going to do when I’m done. I don’t know if medicine is my dream” and it’s not until they take a research course that they decide, some of them, to change their careers. For this reason, outreach to the K-12 community is very important to us. In 2017, we were hit by a massive hurricane and a lot of the population subsequently migrated to the United States as our economy and resources were badly affected. However, we did not become discouraged. During 2017-2018 we still impacted more than 250 school students. We teach our k-12 community about science, and how to be able to see and experience physiology using different educational techniques, which envelop auditory memory, visual memory and kinesthetic memory to capture the students’ attention. We want to ensure that students are not overwhelmed by the amount of material in science classes. Often, it’s not the amount of material that is the problem but how the material is given, and how to provide relevant examples to students to keep their attention. We also haven’t forgotten about those who have already finished college and are already teaching these students. We have given workshops to approximately 40 teachers to enhance their incorporation of physiological concepts into the classroom in order to impact more students. Since students have different visual, auditory and kinesthetic memories we aim to provide the teachers with tools such as instruments or activities that can help students find science interesting and entertaining at the same time. With these steps we want to make sure that the next generation of Puerto Rican children have the knowledge and desire to follow our footsteps and pursue scientific careers on our island.

Before finishing a bachelor’s degree in chemistry with a math minor, I took a research course in my senior year. That course helped me to understand that what I wanted to pursue was a career in research. After undergraduate studies, I worked for six years as a laboratory technician and on many occasions my superiors suggested I enroll in a PhD program, but I thought that I was not prepared and I was very afraid to fail. Eventually I made the decision to pursue a PhD in biomedical sciences and I loved it. I currently work at a university where undergraduate courses are predominantly offered and I continue to perform research related to obesity and depressive disorders. At my institution I began to understand the need for students to prepare and be competitive in their area. I also realized that the K-12 community is very important because it is our future, for this reason I spend part of my time bringing physiology concepts to schools.

Dr. Gladys Chompre

Associate Professor

Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico 


PhUn in the Country

My professional philosophy is that an important part of my job is to expose the public to science. A big part of that involves getting my face out in the community and talking to them about what science is. I use PhUn week as an opportunity to open the door to the public and invite them into the world of science. In my reflections on my own progression through the educational system I felt that there was not much information given about careers in science. As I went through my scientific training in graduate school, I came to feel a personal conviction that it was my professional obligation to educate the next generation about what science is and what career opportunities exist in science.

What value do you see this providing to the community?

I see this as being valuable to the scientific community, in that it actively exposes students to biomedical science and gives a human face to the abstract notion of ‘scientific research’. It is also a valuable experience for the community I worked in as they are a small rural district and might not otherwise have access to this type of experience/programming.

Who was involved?

To set up the activity I contacted the STEM teacher for the Carlisle, IA school district. The activity was tailored to grades K-3 and took place at Carlisle elementary school. They only have one teacher for the whole district, so this made coordination and scheduling relatively easy. I used the built-in schedule for science education and visited every single classroom in the school over the course of ~ 1 week. I taught in 4, 50-minute classes a day for 8 days. In total this PhUn week activity reached 650 students.

What were your educational objectives?

I had several educational objectives I considered when planning the activity. I wanted to help students develop an understanding of what blood vessels are and how they work. I also wanted to introduce some concepts about how preventative measures such as exercise could improve cardiovascular fitness. Finally, I wanted to engage students in an activity that would give them an appreciation for application of the scientific method.

What activities did you design?

I started each class by spending some time talking about the basics of what blood vessels are and the important function they serve in the body. I also talk a little bit about how abnormal function of blood vessels plays a role in different diseases. To illustrate some of the principles that pertain to blood flow and vascular resistance I designed an activity where students measure transit of a volume of water through pipes (straws) of different diameters. The students formulated hypotheses prior to their experiments, collected and tabulated data, and then we discussed how their results fit with their hypothesis. The students enjoyed the opportunity to role-play being a scientist and were all very engaged throughout the activity. After the discussion of results and hypotheses I brought the discussion back to the effect of blood vessels on health and talked about how regular exercise could affect health by affecting the relative size (degree of constriction) in blood vessels.

Did your prior experiences with PHUN week shape your approach this time?

In prior PhUn week activities I noted that we often had difficulty completing everything we had planned. In the course of planning this activity I decided that I wanted to accomplish everything on my agenda in time frame given. This helped to shape the nature and number of activities that I did for this particular year. Another consideration in designing the activity was that it would be accessible and adaptable for different grade levels from K through 3.

How were the activities received by the students?

The students really loved the activities. My perception was that they were very engaged in what was happening. Part of this engagement stemmed from building a competition into the activity, but it also helped that students are intrigued by the notion of a scientist. The activity of doing what a scientist does was enough of a hook for a lot of students. All the students seemed to be eager to plot their data and see how it compared to findings from other groups. The excitement of discovery and the unknown is an innate trait that we tap into to make this activity a success.

What if anything would you change if doing it again?

Even with all the planning, I think I bit off a bit more than I could chew. Going forward I think I would either need to scale things down or enlist additional help if I was going to do the same thing again. I think also that in the future I’d like to try to find more specific tie-ins to curriculum that the STEM teacher is trying to build so as to augment their curriculum rather than depart from it.

Sarah Clayton, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the department of Physiology and Pharmacology at Des Moines University Medicine and Health Sciences, in Des Moines, Iowa.


Interactive exercises to learn about our muscles and heart for 4th and 5th graders

Often times I think back to one of the joys of elementary school recess, which allowed us to run around the playground, hang off monkey bars, hopscotch, jump rope, and engage in other fun activities with our friends. Unfortunately, many schools have reduced or removed recess time from elementary schools despite the documented positive benefits of physical activity and unstructured play time. When I learned about the PhUn week program and the opportunity to teach kids about physiology and better understand how their bodies work I “jumped” at the opportunity. I have coordinated a PhUn week activity for the past three years for 4th and 5th graders at a local school with a teacher who was already involved in numerous STEM related projects for her students. She was very enthusiastic since while she had introduced her students to different aspects of STEM she was lacking a physiology component.

When I began planning my first PhUn week activity, I wanted to provide interactive, hands-on activities and give additional meaning to the term “active” learning. My own research has focused on skeletal muscle and exercise physiology so it was logical to use my expertise in this area. I also knew I would need other faculty or students to help implement my plans. Two of my undergraduate students quickly volunteered, and they recalled their own memories of elementary school and knew we could make a positive impact on these students. The plan was to spend one full class period with the 4th graders and another period with 5th graders. We began by asking the students if they knew how their muscles worked and why they got tired. Several students explained that we had nerves that made our muscles work, but did not know how nerves and muscles communicated. All students agreed that when they ran or carried heavy backpacks their muscles got tired.

We had 3 stations to study muscle strength and fatigue. The first helped the students see how their brains turned on their muscles by measuring electrical activity in their muscles with electrodes on their skin. To visualize how their nerves controlled their muscles we used iWorx to measure forearm electromyographic activity (EMG) while gripping a force transducer with increasing force. On the computer each student saw how when they gripped harder there was more EMG. To study muscle strength, they measured grip strength with a handgrip dynamometer and compared strength between their left and right hands and among classmates. To experience muscle fatigue, they squeezed the spring handgrip exercisers until they could not squeeze anymore. They also measured their grip strength after the handgrip exercise and saw how their strength decreased with fatigue. They were enthusiastic about all activities and wrote notes about what they learned such as, “We learned our muscles have electricity” and “When you grip something hard your muscles are tired”. I can definitely say that I was tired after several hours of keeping up with active elementary students, but it was so rewarding to see the passion with which the students performed the activities.

My Second PhUn Week For my second year, we used the same activities as year one, but added a station to teach heart physiology and utilize the PhUn Week squeezy hearts as a teaching tool. We talked about how the students can use a stethoscope to listen to their hearts beating and pumping blood to their muscles. The students enjoyed using the stethoscopes to listen to their own hearts and their classmates’ hearts. All the students had used “play” stethoscopes growing up, but were excited to use real doctor’s stethoscopes. We also explained how our hearts worked using the PhUn Week squeezy hearts. In addition the students learned about the location of blood vessels and importance of blood flow. As in the past year, they eagerly told us and their teacher what they had learned about their heart and muscles. As this was the second year, the teacher noted how it inspired her students and throughout the year she had her students reflect back on these activities when talking about how our bodies function. I was encouraged by many students mentioning having remembered material from the previous year’s PhUn Week activity, and were also able to draw parallels between family member’s health and learned content (e.g., “my dad has high blood pressure!”).

My Third PhUn Week For our third year, I decided to switch up the activities to learn about our skeletal muscles while keeping the heart/stethoscope activity. The goals were to help the students learn about how their skeletal muscles provide power and balance and how their hearts work harder during exercise. To learn the importance of muscle power, we used a vertical jump test (Just Jump Mat) to record jump height. Top performer’s jump heights were recorded on a white board to crown the “jump champion”, which fostered friendly competition and motivation for the activity. Next, students learned about how their muscles and vestibular system helps their balance ability.

To learn about balance ability, students performed a Y balance test (YBT™) in which they stood on one leg on a center platform and reached the alternative leg as far as possible in 3 directions (anterior, posterior medial, posterior lateral). They also stood on split foam rollers to learn how their muscles contracted to maintain their balance and keep them from falling. As in the past year, students used stethoscopes to listen to their own hearts and classmates’ hearts at rest and after they had jumped around for several minutes. We explained how their hearts beat faster during exercise to send blood and oxygen to their working muscles. They enthusiastically told us about their plans to practice their jumping power so next year they would be crowned jump champion. Students remembered material from the previous year’s PhUn Week when they measured muscle EMG and were also able to draw parallels that jumping higher was powered by higher muscle EMG. I am planning more fun physiology activities for next year. I continue to see the positive impact we are having on potential future scientists and making physiology accessible to all. It is also extremely rewarding to see the passion and unbridled energy of the students. I have gained even greater respect for our elementary school teachers who create the best learning environment they can while keeping so much active energy in check! I would recommend we all incorporate jump championships and physical activity into our classes (even college) since we know that activity increases brain blood flow which improves learning not to mention a little friendly competition!

Kimberly A. Huey received a Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences from the University of California, San Diego and completed postdoctoral training in skeletal muscle physiology at the University of California, Irvine. She is currently a Professor of Physiology in the Department of Health Sciences at Drake University. Dr. Huey’s research focuses on contractile and cellular adaptations in skeletal muscle to changes in loading and activation such as exercise or disuse as well as the effects of medications on muscle function. Within the American Physiology Society, she has served on the Education Committee and Women in Physiology Committee and is currently serving on the Communications Committee. She is a Fellow in the American Physiological Society and American College of Sports Medicine.

From the College to the Elementary School Classroom

I have participated in the American Physiological Society’s (APS) Physiology Understanding Week (PhUn Week) for eight years now. Each year I have visited pre-school, kindergarten, or first grade classrooms. I have been teaching at the college level for over 20 years and I do not have children of my own. Therefore, adapting to teaching children has been a challenge. The first thing I learned (the hard way, as usual) is that I need to be very careful with the words I choose. I stood there talking about “increases” and “decreases” assuming they were basic words. The teacher pulled me aside and suggested I switch to the terms “goes up” and “goes down”. I had no idea! Once I realized how much I was unable to judge the best words to use, I began sending a script to the teacher in advance for feedback. I have also learned that elementary school lessons often very structured. College instructors create course objectives and structure their courses to meet and assess them, but it is rare that we create highly structured lesson plans for each topic. One teacher introduced me to a simple way to structure my PhUn Week activities and it has helped me significantly. The components in the table below form a simple recipe for a successful lesson with young children. I usually have four different lessons that last about 12 minutes each and I have found this structure to work very well. Component Description Hook/Motivation/Engage Tell a story, show a video clip, show pictures, etc. Big Idea State what they are going to learn. “Today we are going to learn about …”. Teach Teach them what you want them to learn. Don’t ask, tell. Model Show them the activity they are about to do. Guided Practice/Check for Understanding Make sure they know what they are going to do. Independent Practice Students participate in the activity. Closure/Review Ask them to tell you what they learned. Hook/Motivation/Engage A big difference I have found between college and elementary school students is that the children have a lot of energy, and therefore it is important to find a way to reel them in. However, they are also very curious, so it is not hard to engage them with the right “hook”. Big Idea As I mentioned above, these children and very curious and I have found them to be very anxious to learn. I often wish more of my college students had this incredible drive to learn! It is important to be clear about what they are about to learn and state the “big idea” that will come out of the lesson. Teach In college, instructors often start by asking questions. I have found that when I ask children questions, almost all of them raise their hands and want to answer. I have also found that many of them do not have the right answer; they simply like to be called upon. Wow, what a contrast to college students who often have the right answer but still do not raise their hands! To ensure a smooth and efficient lesson, it is best to first teach them what you want them to learn. It helps to have the children repeat terminology and other information back to you, as they tend to enjoy that, it helps them learn, and makes the teaching more interactive. Model You do not want to spend too much time talking and teaching or you will lose the students’ attention. This is one thing elementary and college students have in common, but I have found that children have an even shorter attention span. It is important to get to the fun stuff, which includes actually seeing and doing something to engage their curiosity and facilitate learning. With the children though, it is particularly important to first model what they are going to do to ensure they understand the activity. Guided Practice/Check for Understanding Once you have modeled the activity, it is time to let them try it out on their own. However, you do not want to let them go completely on their own right away. It is important to have a transition period when you check that they understand what they are supposed to do. You can explicitly ask them, “now what are you going to do”? You can also have one or more of the students model for the class as you provide feedback. This will help ensure better success with the activity. Independent Practice Now they are ready to fully engage with the activity as you watch and help, as needed. I am always impressed by how well they do once they have been properly guided prior to the activity. They tend to be very creative and thoughtful and it is fun and rewarding to watch. Closure/Review Now is the ideal time to ask questions. As I stated above, children love to answer questions. At this point, they have the knowledge to answer correctly. This is often my favorite component of the lesson because it is rewarding to see how much they learned. Working with elementary school children has been a learning experience for me. I learned very quickly that you cannot simply “water down” college content and teach it to children. This lesson plan structure has been invaluable to me and the success of my PhUn Week lessons.

Kim Henige received her Ed.D. in Education (emphasis: Science Education) from the University of Southern California and her M.A. in Physical Education (emphasis: Exercise Physiology) from California State University, Northridge (CSUN). Kim is currently a Professor in the Department of Kinesiology at CSUN where she teaches exercise physiology and applied exercise physiology courses. In addition, she directs the CSUN Kinesiology Peer Learning Facilitator program and is the course director for CSUN’s Freshman Seminar. Kim’s scholarship is focused on improving student enjoyment and success through active learning and peer mentoring.

High School Students Experience a PhUn Week Presentation by Faculty and View the Simulation Center and Research Labs at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences

The 2017 PhUn week, sponsored and supported by the American Physiological Society was held at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) Campus on November 7, 2017. Forty students (grades 9-12), two teachers and four presenters participated in the session. The demographic breakdown of the students are as follows: six males and thirty-four females. Among the students group who participated in the program, there were three Hispanic/Latino students, four Asians, fourteen Black or African Americans, fourteen White students and three listed as other. The group received a warm welcome to UAMS campus from Mr. Nicholas Pettus, a diversity specialist from the Center for Diversity Affairs. This was followed by followed by a brief introduction of the faculty speakers from Dr. Chowdhury. Drs. Ware, Wight, and Lipsmeyer (all from the Department of Physiology & Biophysics) addressed the students about their research in various areas of Physiology, focusing on various models that they used to understand the mechanisms of many types of disease processes. After these presentations, the students were divided into two groups and were given a tour of the UAMS State of the Art Simulation Center. In the Simulation Center, students were given an opportunity to listen to heart and lung sounds of one another, experienced how to perform CPR and intubate the training dummy, ‘Manikin,’ and viewed Noel, the birthing mannequin. Then the students rotated through the research laboratories of Drs. Chowdhury and Lipsmeyer, where they were introduced to a range of facilities used for research in molecular and cell biology. The brief exposure to these state-of-the-art research facilities provided a means to foster the students’ interest in science, and to obtain hands-on-experience that may be useful in the students’ summer research projects. Mrs. Melissa Donham, Chair of the Science Department and Scientific Advisor for the Little Rock Central High School and the Science Club, spoke highly of the opportunities afforded to her students through the PhUn Week. Dr. Chowdhury has conducted this event for almost ten years with support from the American Physiological Society.

Dr. Chowdhury received his post graduate degree from McGill University in Montreal, Canada. His current research program is aimed at studying the mechanism/s of induction of pancreatic pathophysiology by nicotine in a rodent model. In addition, Dr. Chowdhury is also conducting NASA related research dealing with microgravity and its effects on brain and pancreatic physiology. Dr. Chowdhury is a participant in medical and graduate school teaching and serves as Course Director in several graduate level courses. Dr. Chowdhury mentors summer students from freshmen medical class, high schools of Central Arkansas Region and Arkansas School of Science and Mathematics. Dr. Chowdhury serves as science fair judge in local high schools, Central Arkansas Regional, State and Junior Academy of Science. He serves in various capacities to the Society Sigma XI both locally and at the national lev. Dr. Chowdhury served as President of American Scientists of Indian Origin in USA (ASIOA) for two years and also as President for the International Society for the Prevention of Tobacco Induced Diseases (ISPTID) for two years. Dr. Chowdhury serves as an Ad-hoc reviewer to numerous granting agencies, peer reviewed journals and is a member of the Editorial Boards of several journals. He is an author of over 135 peer reviewed publications including several book chapters and over 315 professional scientific meeting presentations

Teaching Kidney Physiology in Inner City Elementary Schools is PhUn!!

Children growing up in historically marginalized communities lack access to many resources that they need to thrive, and in many instances, these circumstances predict the opportunities that they will have in life. Some of the statistics that support these observations: “16 million children in the US live below the poverty line”, “Children of color are more than 2 times more likely to be born into poverty than white children” and “Only about 14% of children growing up in poverty will graduate from college”. These are some of the many reasons that experts believe to be behind the low diversity in the STEM field. I believe that early exposure to good role models could change this dreadful statistics.

When I was given the opportunity to start organizing science outreach efforts in the university department where I work, I wanted to marry two of my passions: physiology and reaching to underserved children. I work at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), which is located in downtown Birmingham. Most of the students at inner city schools here come from low-income families, and the majority of the students are African American or Hispanic. Many of them have no idea how a scientist looks like and do not realize that science is a possibility in their future.

I partnered with the Birmingham chapter of Teach for America, a national organization that is committed to ending educational inequality in the United States. They put me in contact with teachers at 3 inner city schools near UAB, and I worked with them to start coordinating our visits. The teachers jumped at the opportunity of having physiologists visiting their classrooms, as their students rarely have ever met a scientist in person. We started small, with 1 or 2 classrooms per school, but as we did these visits every year for the last 5 years, the rest of the teachers of that grade would also be interested in our visits. The result is that we now visit 5 classrooms per school, for a total of 3 schools, which means that we reach around 300 students every year. To make this possible, I recruit volunteers among postdocs, grad students, junior faculty members, research assistants and even administrative staff at our department.

On the day of the visit, I divide the volunteers into groups (as many as the classrooms that we will be visiting in the school). Each group has a leader scientist and 3-4 helper scientists that go into each classroom. We start our activities with a short PowerPoint presentation, where we talk about what scientists are, what their role in society is, and we highlight the fact that scientists are regular people, not different from the students in the class. We also briefly review the scientific method, and then, we tell the students about how the kidneys work. The students are divided into small groups (4-5 students/group) and start the hands-on activities. Our activities are focused on kidney damage because that is the focus of our department and our research.

A description of each of the 2 activities follows:

Activity 1: Purpose: to determine which glomerulus is damaged

Materials (per group of students): 2 plastic cups (one labeled “blood” and the other labeled “tubule”), 3 filters with different pore diameter (small, medium and big pores; these are the “glomeruli”), a bag of beads of 2 sizes (small beads are “protein” and big beads are “glucose”; note: the small beads need to be small enough to pass through the medium sized filter but big enough to not go through the small-pore sized filter; similarly, the big beads need to be big enough to go through the big pores of the biggest filter), paper tablecloth and paper towels.

Methods: One of the volunteers fills the cup labeled “blood” with some water and the students are instructed to place the beads into the water. Then, the students place one of the filters on top of the cup labeled “tubule” and then pour the water + beads over the filter. The students are instructed to write down what size of beads passes through that given glomerulus. They repeat the same process with the other 2 glomeruli/filters.










Discussion: Once they are done, the leader explains that normal urine does not contain any protein and that the glomerulus/filter that did not let any bead pass through is a normal glomerulus. Then we explain that when there are small beads in the water, that means that the glomerulus is damaged and that the patient has protein in the urine (we call this acute kidney damage). We also tell them that in a diabetic patient you would find both protein (small beads) and glucose (big beads) in the urine; thus, the filter with big pores is the diabetic glomerulus.

Activity 2: Purpose: Diagnose the kidney disease – Fake urine! The students have to determine which patient is normal, has acute kidney injury or is diabetic.

Materials: 3 small cups with covers labeled “patient 1”, “patient 2” and “patient 3” (we use small histology cups), protein and glucose urinalysis dipsticks (3/group of students), key color chart, Diet Cola soda, albumin, glucose or sugar. Not necessary, but PhUn: gloves and masks.


Teaching Kidney Physiology in Inner City Elementary Schools is PhUn!!

To prepare the fake urine (this can be done in advance and kept in the fridge until you take it to the school): For the normal urine – mix water and enough diet Cola to give a urine-like color; for the acute kidney injury urine – mix water, diet Cola for color and albumin; for the diabetic urine – mix water, diet Cola for color, albumin and glucose/sugar. Make each of the urines in big batches and then distribute in the appropriate cups.

Methods: The volunteer helpers distribute 3 cups filled with urine to each group of students, together with 3 dipsticks and a key color chart. The leader tells the students a story about having an MD friend that works at the hospital. The MD is extremely busy and has asked the leader for help to diagnose the patients. The leader tells the students that the urine is from patients at the hospital (there will be a huge “Eeeewwww” coming from the students at this moment). The leader tells the students that they need to wear the gloves and masks because they are doctors for the day and they are working with “human urine”. Instruct the students to dip the dipsticks in the cups one at a time, count to 10 and look at how they change color; with the help of the volunteers, the students write down their diagnosis.



Discussion: When all the groups are done, the leader summarizes the results for each patient and talks a little bit about how to keep healthy kidneys. Do not forget to tell the students at the end of the activity that the urine was fake!!!

We have found that this activity sparks a lot of interest in the students, since many of them know of somebody with kidney disease due to hypertension or diabetes. Students deeply engage in the activities and ask millions of questions, not only about the kidney and how it functions, but also about our path to science and how a regular day in the laboratory is. Our volunteers are a very diverse group, many of them minorities and from many different countries, so these visits also provide the students with diverse role models in the STEM field.





Carmen De Miguel, PhD, is an Instructor of Medicine in the Division of Nephrology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She is a basic scientist originally from Madrid, Spain. Carmen completed her B.S. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. She then moved to the U.S. to pursue a Master’s degree in Cell and Molecular Biology at St. Cloud State University, MN. Her experiences at St Cloud State led to a deep interest in physiology, and she decided to pursue doctoral studies in this discipline by joining the Department of Physiology at the Medical College of Wisconsin, WI. Her Ph.D. research, under Dr. David L. Mattson’s mentorship, focused on the role that renal T cell infiltration plays in the development of salt-sensitive hypertension and associated kidney damage. Dr. De Miguel is currently working in Dr. Jennifer Pollock’s lab at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where she continues to investigate molecular pathways that lead to kidney damage during hypertensive and diabetic conditions. Carmen is very active in APS, having been member of the APS Education and Communications Committees and trainee leader in the Water and Electrolytes Homeostasis section. She is also very involved in science outreach activities and she has been an organizer and volunteer for PhUn week since 2011. In addition, she volunteers as mentor for the NEXT Program of the New York Academy of Sciences, supporting girls from minority backgrounds to stay in the STEM field.
PhUn week activities to a larger multi-level group after Hurricane Maria

A year ago Puerto Rico went through one of the most difficult and devastating events in our modern history, Hurricane Maria, after this category 5 hurricane hit our island we were left without water, electricity, communications and without other basic needs. The schools and universities suffered great damage and because of the slow recovery, the return to normalcy was an upstream battle. However, hope and desire to fight inspired a group of Puerto Ricans scientists, members of the American Physiology Society (APS) Chapter of Puerto Rico, to power through the devastation and personal issues and make sure that PhUn Week took place.

The APS Chapter of Puerto Rico usually develops PhUn week on the campus of several primary and secondary schools creating several activities throughout the week relating to the topic of that year. This activity always resulted in a great positive energy and amazing feedback from the participating students. This PhUn week came to be expected from the students in the participating schools and students would anxiously and excitedly wait for it to happen. Hurricane Maria instigated a change this year, due to the devastation and the damage that occurred to various participating schools. So, we decided to carry out PhUn Week in the laboratories and halls of the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico Ponce Campus with the purpose of being able to provide and exciting introduction to physiology simultaneously to a larger number of students from different grade levels (elementary, intermediate and higher levels for a total of 102 students).

A university environment gave us the ability to present the different sections of PhUn Week in both the classroom and a proper research laboratory environment, which provided a unique experience to the students. For PhUn Week, the theme of Neuroscience was selected, two sessions were prepared, one with an introductory information in a mini lecture format and a discussion session at the end of the activity to listen to the opinions of the students and provide information that summarized what was learned. In addition, five hands-on activities were held between these two sessions, which were: anatomy, histology, optical illusions, hippocampal function and cerebellum function. To properly work with the large number of students invited; different hands-on activities sessions were created to divide the students into small groups and therefore establishing an environment with more accessibility to the information being given.

We wanted the students to be able to see, listen and have a hands-on relationship with the chosen neuroscience topic. In order to facilitate their learning experience there was an emphasis on the varied hands-on activities. In the anatomy section students explored a human brain, the brain areas, and its function. The histology section, students learned how to use a microscope and viewed fluorescent staining of rat brain cells, such as neurons, astrocytes, and others. The third section showed Optical Illusions, which are images that appear to differ from the reality; in this case the brain captures the information and interprets it depending what had been stored. The next section activity explained the importance of the hippocampus in the process of learning and memory, in this activity, students saw a complex picture for ten seconds, then they were shown a second picture, and asked to explain the picture that makes the complex picture. Finally, in the cerebellum activity, important for motor function and coordination; we asked students to put on goggles with a prism effect and try to throw the balls into box 6 feet away, after about 20 attempts, the students were asked to remove the goggles and quickly throw more balls.

At the end of the activites we observed that the students were very excited, with a positive attitude towards physiology even though they recently went through a negative experience of the Hurricane. Changing students from an everyday school environment to an educational environment in a university campus, with laboratory areas and with different activities provided them with the joy and hope that everything could change in the future. Our goal as a group was for the students to have a day where the Hurricane would not be discussed, and to maintain a series of activities where everything would be normal and without the problems from Maria. In addition to bringing them happiness, we achieved a growth of interest in the areas of study of the university and laboratories, they asked about the facilities and what was done in each laboratory and its instruments. At the end of this activity, we observed that with great effort a bit of hope was achieved. The hurricane negatively impacted all who participated, Professors, researchers, graduate students and yet everyone helped make PhUn week a reality and a positive experience for the students.

We wish to thank all the people who organized this activity from Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico, Ponce Health Sciences, and University of Puerto Rico Ponce Campus and special thanks to Dr. Gladys Chompre, Myrella Cruz, Dr. Dinah Ramos Ortolaza, Dr. Caroline Appleyard, Agnes González Charles, and Samuel Bronfen Quinones. Thanks to this post-hurricane Maria PhUn week we discovered that as a university community, when we come together, we make a difference and this activity will be one that will continue, no matter the events, we will offer education and happiness to the whole community.

Christine D. Rodriguez-Flores graduate student of the Biology Department at the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico (PUCPR). In addition to doing research, I am interested in providing scientific knowledge to the next generation of K-12 students. This is why I helped coordinate the Physiological Understanding Week in 2018. Even with the disaster of Hurricane Maria last year, we followed the plan of bringing the Phun week activity to our students giving them knowledge and hope. The data collected was presented at EB Conference 2018: Translation of Physiology Understanding (PhUn) Week Activities to a Larger Multi-Level Group of Students in a Scientific Environment following Hurricane Maria in the PhUn week and in the Teaching of Physiology sections. In the future, I am still interested in bringing to the students an experience with science in a simple manner and make them enjoy the full spectrum of scientific learning.