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.
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.
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.
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.
Several of the physiologists at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) have provided considerable time and effort into making PhUn week a great learning experience for K-12 students and teachers in the area. Carmel McNicholas-Bevensee and Kathy Berecek were early PhUn week explorers, taking active learning experiences to the K-5 classrooms in the area, while Mike Wyss conducted both classroom sessions and sessions at the McWane Science Museum in Birmingham. More recently, David and Jennifer Pollock have joined the UAB PhUn week efforts and greatly enhanced its reach.
The original format of UAB PhUn week was to go out to area schools to teach relatively simple, albeit important lessons to K-5 students. Some of the first experiences were to simply take a cow heart to the schools. We quickly realized that the size and weight of a cow heart made the experience difficult, and thus changed to a pig heart-lung preparation, which was more manageable. A plastic tube was inserted into the lungs connected to a bicycle pump, with which the lungs could be expanded with air. For most students this was in itself exciting, but adding to the excitement, the presenter dressed in a white coat and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and told the students that as they participated in touch the heart, they too needed to don PPE. We kept the oral presentation short (< 10m), but provided enough background to help the students understand what they were about to experience. Models of the pumping heart, helped the students to gain insight into how blood flows through the pig heart and how the heart worked in them. For middle school students this expanded into 50-minute classroom sessions with human brains, in which the students began to touch the brains and identify major areas.
While many of these experiences were great, one of the most fun experiences is taking the Lung-O-Meter into a grade 2 or 3 classroom. The experience is relatively simple, but teaches several lessons that the teacher can build on. The ingredients are several empty, gallon milk jugs, a plastic tub that has about a > 2-gallon capacity, magic markers, a measuring cup (or graduated cylinder and a flexible plastic tube. The object is to have each team of about 3 students each mark gradations on the milk jug (hopefully in mL), cap the jug when completely filled, turn it upside down, place it in a tub of water remove the cap, place the plastic tube inside the jug, and then blow into the tube to determine lung capacity. The students then put their data points on a graph on the white board in front of the room relative to the student’s weight and height, to estimate whether there is a relationship between these variables. Thus, the lesson teaches them about measurements, scientific process, team work (each student in the group gets an assigned task) and individual differences. Mostly though, it teaches them science can be fun, and what is more fun than 30 7-9 year olds getting to splash around in water in their classroom.
With this or any other similar activity, it is very important to partner with the teacher and administrators in learning experience. Perhaps of prime concern to both groups is that the class time be used to address key learning objectives, typically linked to the Next Generation Science Standards and/or the state’s science course of studies. It is a great benefit for the visitors to explain to the teacher ahead of the visit, the first principles underlying the activity. Grade K-5 teachers often have relatively little formal science background, and thus these PhUn week experiences can be a great learning experience for them as well, as long as they are presented in a collegial way, remembering the visitors can learn much from the teacher about pedagogy of K-5 students. In general, it is best if the PhUn week teams include a faculty-level physiologist, who can help coordinate the activity, but recognizes that the best ideas for the activities likely will come from physiology students/postdocs who design them. Also, the faculty member can often assuage hard feelings when a school cancels an event at the last minute. This will happen and usually relates to emerging situations at the school that are not easily foreseeable.
Just a brief word about mass presentations versus classroom visits. Our presentations at McWane Science Center for both PhUn week and Brain Awareness Week reach a huge number of students in one week (>2,000), especially when they are scheduled for school break periods. However, these events typically do not link up the teachers to the physiologists. Often, once a teacher and physiologist link together in the classroom experience, the teacher is much more likely to engage the physiologist or join in other learning programs that are offered by the physiologist’s institution. Also, the science museum presentations are typically short (2-5 min.) and more focused on the excitement/wonder of science, while the classroom presentations can go more in depth. Over the 10+ years of UAB’s PhUn week, we have reached about >13,000 students in classrooms and >14,000 in the science center.
The engagement of the faculty physiologist also helps researchers address the Broader Impacts that NSF and in part NIH are demanding in applications for research grants. Both granting agencies want to encourage researchers to translate their science to the public, and PhUn week activities can do just that.
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.
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!
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.
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
In 2011, I attended the PhUn week workshop at Experimental Biology, where I learned about the program and some of the steps to organize the program. Since then, I have organized a PhUn week activity every year for 6 years now, including at the elementary, middle, and high school levels.
Physiology Understanding (PhUn) week is the American Physiological Society outreach program looking to motivate K-12 students to choose science programs as their higher education path. In the past 5 years, we have developed a series the PhUn week activities from theater-like presentations to high technology hands-on experiments showing how physiology can be integrated to the science curriculum or promoting health care careers. These activities were performed in the Wabash Valley, IN, area and involved 50 to 100 K-12 students with 8 to 30 college-aged facilitators (undergraduate and graduate).
This year, we had to re-create PhUn week from scratch due to new institution (The University of Texas at El Paso-UTEP), new city (El Paso, TX), and new school district (El Paso Independent School District). Because of my new position at UTEP, I did not have any direct access to undergraduate and graduate students, except for one senior PhD student and one freshman undergraduate student. Therefore, we had to start with the basics of PhUn week 101. First, find a community partner within the school district. We found it at Dr. Hornedo Middle School’s 6th grade science teacher and a class of 24 children. Second, recruit undergraduate students willing to dedicate 15 to 20 hours in training, design, and execution within 4-6 weeks. Six students were recruited from the Bachelors in Rehabilitation Sciences at UTEP. Third, design a production plan, which begins with a hierarchical model to evolve toward a ‘flat organization model’. My PhD student and I trained the ‘senior’ undergraduate student in the PhUn week purpose and use of applied technology (i.e. Biopac MP40). Then, the ‘senior’ trained the remaining 6 undergraduate students. Once they were all trained in the use of Biopac MP40, we had 2 meetings used for brainstorming and designing PhUn week activities. The design of 3 hands-on activities was decided horizontally, within our flat organization, which created a great discussion environment and great new ideas! Once everything was planned, we went to Dr. Hornedo Middle School for a 3-day session. On the first day, a general description of the program was given and data collected on a ‘reaction time’ activity. Day 2, data collection in cardiovascular responses to exercise and changes in the electromyogram related to increased workloads. Day 3, data analysis and review of the results. The outcomes were successful in many levels: at the school level, children were able to collect data in different physiologic responses (i.e. electromyogram, electrocardiogram, and reaction time) that was used within their science curriculum; at the undergraduate level, students were able to reinforce their social responsibility mentoring school-aged children as role models for a successful college career. In addition, undergraduate students were able to analyze some of the data and produce 2 abstracts for the PhUn week workshop at the upcoming Experimental Biology meeting and they registered on a UTEP undergraduate science course to explore new career paths within the STEM field; finally, at the Gurovich Lab level, we confirmed that PhUn week is not only fun but tremendously rewarding, as you can change lives and minds of younger generations.
|Dr. Gurovich received his Physical Therapy degree from Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile in 1990 and worked as a clinician for more than 15 years in different fields such as sports medicine, cardiovascular rehabilitation, and human performance. In 2006, he moved to University of Florida where he received his doctoral degree in Health and Human Performance in 2010, and a post-doctoral position at University of Florida College of Medicine, in the Department of Physiology and Functional Genomics, where he learned in vitro and in situ techniques that strengthen his translational research background. In 2011, he attended the PhUn week workshop at Experimental Biology, where he learned about the program and some of the steps to organize the program. In 2012, he was recruited by Indiana State University to help developing the Doctor of Physical Therapy program. Since then, Dr. Gurovich has organized a PhUn week activity every year for 6 years now, including elementary, middle, and high school students.
Dr. Gurovich is an active member of the American Physical Therapy Association, the American Physiological Society, the International Society for the Advancements in Kinanthropometry, and the American College of Sports Medicine, from which he was granted Fellow member status in 2010.