Category Archives: Teacher physiologists partnerships

The 5W’s of PhUn Week

I’m happy to say this fall will be my 5th year of participating in Physiology Understanding Week.  While the past 4 years by no mean make me an expert, I have learned a few lessons along the way that others might find helpful.

WHO should you partner with?

One of the first questions I asked when first thinking about doing PhUn week was how I was going to find a partner K-12 educator. Luckily, my institution has a close relationship with a local public charter school that is actually located in a building on campus.  Not everyone will have this same sort of easy-access but many institutions do have existing K-12 relationships that you might utilize.  Does your institution have a Teacher Education program?  These folks can likely provide some contacts to get you started.

Even with my own “built in” connection, I still had to do a bit of internet sleuthing to find the appropriate partner teachers. I started with a general email explaining PhUn week (links to helpful APS websites are helpful), giving a general timeframe, and simply asking if they’d be willing to have a conversation about what collaboration might be possible.  I suggest starting by contacting all the science educators you can find.  With any luck, at least one will reply and you can work from there.

WHAT should you do?

Before I contacted prospective teachers I had some idea of what I wanted to do with my activity. However, I strongly encourage you to stay flexible with your ideas until you understand more of the details of your day and be willing to accommodate the partner teachers’ needs.  Who will your audience be?  The activities for 6th grade general science classes needed to be different than those for the high school anatomy course.  Similarly, because I have integrated PhUn week into the courses I teach (Human Physiology and Research in Health and Sport Science), I had to adjust the activities given the learning goals of the courses in which the students were enrolled.

Your K-12 partner will know their own class, so asking them for ideas and feedback on your ideas is critical. For example, if you’re doing stations, a good technique for keeping students engaged, they may suggest a way for students to summarize and take away key points at each station as well as what the ideal time frame for each station may be.  It is important to gauge the level of background knowledge your K-12 students will have and the partner teacher is best positioned to comment on this.  Look on the LifeSciTRC for age-appropriate examples if you need ideas.

WHERE should it take place?

The logistics of a PhUn week experience can sometimes be a barrier to participation. While many times researchers might want to host students in their lab, this is often not possible.  Thus, you’ll likely be in the K-12 classroom.  I encourage you to visit the space in advance or at minimum ask for a few snapshots of the space so you are more comfortable planning your activity.

WHEN should it happen?

The APS advertises PhUn week as the first week in November, this year November 6-10. It’s great to be able to participate at a time when others are, to share your efforts with APS via social media (make sure to gather photo releases if the school doesn’t have a general form already signed and use #PhUnWeek).  However, sometimes this week won’t work, and that’s okay too!  Don’t feel bound to these dates if something else works better.  Do however, make sure you get your Event Planner in to APS by Oct 1st for free promotional materials.

WHY should you participate?

If you’re reading this blog, you probably don’t need much convincing… It’s worth emphasizing, PhUn week is a great opportunity for all involved.  For APS members, it is essential to communicate our work with the general public and next generation of scientists.  If you involve your students, they are able to practice their communication skills as well as reinforce the concepts and techniques they learn and do.  For the K-12 partner educators, it can often expose them to benefits of APS they are unaware of.  Finally, for the K-12 students, they are exposed to professional scientists, the value of higher education, and physiological concepts that might be new for them.  Lastly, for all involved, PhUn week should be fun!

Best of luck to all as you plan and take part in this year’s PhUn activities. If you’re attending the Experimental Biology conference, be sure to submit your activity for the Sunday morning poster session.  This session consistently reinvigorates me for next year’s activities and I’m amazed at the creativity and dedication of our APS members in promoting our discipline!

Anne R. Crecelius, PhD is an assistant professor in the Department of Health and Sport Science at the University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio. She teaches Human Physiology and a Capstone Research course. She returned to her undergraduate alma mater to join the faculty after completing her M.S. and Ph.D. studying Cardiovascular Physiology at Colorado State University. Her research interest is in the integrative control of muscle blood flow. She is a member of the American Physiological Society (APS), serving on the Teaching Section Steering Committee and the Communications Committee.
Increasing Contact to Scientists and Science-related Careers through PhUn Week Activities

My first exposure to teaching physiology and demonstrating physiological principles through demonstrations was during my undergraduate years serving as a teaching assistant in the human physiology laboratory. It was through these experiences that I discovered a love for teaching physiology through the use of demonstrations. As such, I was thrilled to discover the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s involvement in PhUn week when I started my time there as a graduate student. PhUn week had been a part of our department’s outreach program for a few years before I arrived and consisted of faculty and trainees visiting local area schools and engaging students with activities mainly focused on cardiovascular physiology. I was very happy to join a team of excited scientists dedicated to sharing the wonder of physiology.

A few years later my lab mate, Alicia Schiller, and I were approached by a program on campus that provided science outreach opportunities to nearby Native American tribes inquiring if we would be interested in adapting PhUn week activities into their day-long outreach program. We agreed to recruit volunteers and adapt our activities in order to fit this program and began work on this new endeavor.

We were expected to have approximately 300 middle and high school Native American students present that day so the first necessary task was to begin recruiting help from volunteers. We received quite the impressive response from throughout the Nebraska Physiological Society network (which includes campuses in Omaha; Lincoln; and Vermillion, SD) of faculty, postdocs, graduate students, and undergraduates; 20 in total. Through this we learned that help for education activities is out there and that many people are willing to respond to the call for help.

We then set out to develop the materials and activities we would need for the day of activities, which we were now calling “PhUn Day.” We collected many of the tried and true demonstrations and hands-on activities we had used in previous PhUn week experiences for this age group and also developed a few novel activities. In final, we had nine different activities to be presented at different stations. These included:

  • Heart Rate Changes and Heart Sounds
  • Lung Capacity and Respiration
  • Digestion (Poop Lab)
  • Temperature Sensing/Muscles
  • Eye Dissection (High School only)
  • Diving Reflex
  • Owl Pellet Dissection (Middle School only)
  • Nerves and Reflexes
  • Special Senses/Dermatome Mapping

We also developed a tenth station called, “What Does a Scientist Look Like?” designed to provide participants with an informal encounter with one or more of our volunteers where they could ask questions related to what the daily life of a scientist is like, what kind of education is needed to go into science, and what kind of jobs can you get as a scientist. We’ve found through our previous PhUn week involvements that these times set aside to allow students to freely ask questions about the normal, daily life of our faculty and trainees are some of the most rewarding and fruitful times we spend with students. We wanted to provide a similar encounter for each of our 300 attendees during this event.

We collected all of our demonstrations and background information into a booklet, which is now freely available online at the Nebraska Physiological Society Outreach Website. Because this was also a unique opportunity for us to collect data on the usefulness and attitudes toward these types of demonstrations and events, we developed two surveys. One survey given before the event would serve as a baseline measure of students’ understanding of physiology and attitudes toward scientific careers. The second, paired survey given after the event was to provide data on the ability of the event to change these factors. One thing we learned throughout this experience was how time consuming and demanding preparing for an event like this could be. We owe an immense debt of gratitude to all of our volunteers and affiliated staff members that assisted us in preparing for this event. Science is very much a team effort and so are events and activities such as these.

The evening before the event we gathered our volunteers together at the site and held an “orientation” of sorts. We divided up the stations among the group and provided time for the volunteers to acquaint themselves with the material and do a dry run of the activity. Because many of our volunteers had not done a PhUn week before or because they were doing a novel activity, we knew that this orientation time would be integral to the success of the event. It also served as an opportunity for bonding among the volunteers, many of whom were from different campuses.


The day of the event was a whirlwind of activity. Students filled the room and rotated through the stations, talking with the volunteers and asking scores of questions along the way. We’ve always been curious if our PhUn week endeavors have an impact on the kids we’re interacting with, and because we took survey evaluations before and after the event, this time we were able to measure our impact. Through the day’s activities and interactions we significantly increased students’ understanding of physiology and their interest in scientific careers. What was most striking about the impact was that half of students who initially stated that they were unsure about their interest in scientific careers before the event changed to being interested in scientific careers after the event. We’ve recently published the results of our surveys in AJP Advances in Physiological Education.

We think that this may be one of the largest impacts that events like PhUn week have, in reaching students who have little exposure to scientific careers and the scientists who work in them. These type of events provide that exposure and contact, particularly in demographics where students may have little opportunity to interact with scientists and observe career opportunities in physiology through channels readily available to them. We don’t know for sure if these students who increased their excitement toward science and scientific careers will continue to be interested and start a pursuit towards those careers, but events such as PhUn week help provide the beginning steps towards potential interest. We were encouraged by our data as it suggested that these events and connections do have a meaningful impact in student’s understanding and interest in physiology. Hopefully we can someday consider some of the students we reach through these events as colleagues.

Bryan Becker is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Alabama at Birmingham where he studies neuronal control of blood pressure and cardio-renal function. Bryan has been involved in PhUn week activities since 2011 as a graduate student at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Bryan is also a current member of the Careers Opportunities in Physiology Committee with the APS and is interested in how events such as PhUn week and other educational outreach activities increase students’ interest in STEM fields.
Hints for a Successful PhUn Week Event

Having been a part of PhUn Week in some way for the past 8 years, I know that the APS Education Office makes it nearly impossible for PhUn Week not to be successful. With all the resources they offer scientists, teachers, and students, anyone hoping to start their own PhUn Week program should have no problems. However, I have found some ways to make the experience even easier to implement from a logistics standpoint, and in so doing, have found that it’s even more educational, not only for the K-12 students, but also the volunteers.

For the first few years I was involved in PhUn Week, I was a postdoctoral volunteer working with a well-organized scientist who had the student lessons mapped out in detail. She obtained all the materials for us. She coordinated absolutely everything from which grades we’d be working with and which volunteers would help with which lesson at which school at what time and for how long. I did not realize how much time and effort it must have taken to organize everything to reach several hundred K-12 students, but I did enjoy my time with the students and knew that I would like to continue with PhUn Week as the lead scientist. But after my first year organizing my own PhUn Week as a new, full-time faculty member, I came to realize how daunting a task reaching several hundred students at once would be. I was having a hard time planning lessons, obtaining materials, scheduling with teachers, and organizing volunteers, and it was only for one classroom of 3rd graders! I spent a few dozen hours (difficult to find as a new faculty member) organizing, planning lessons, obtaining supplies, and recruiting and training volunteers, only to reach about 30 elementary education students. While PhUn Week went off well and I knew I wanted to continue doing it, the level of effort I had placed on myself was unsustainable. I had hopes that I’d be able to reach many more students, but I wasn’t exactly sure how to best go about doing it again. As luck would have it though, in my 2nd year as lead PhUn week scientist, I had a problem (known all too well to many scientists) that forced me into changing my PhUn Week plans….a research funding problem!

A couple months before PhUn Week, I had a funded grant, with graduate research assistants dedicated to it, encounter a delay. I had 2 graduate students with nothing to do in the lab. It was a PI’s worst nightmare, but for a PhUn Week lead scientist, it was a dream come true. I tasked each graduate student with developing lessons for elementary students, organizing and training their own teams of undergraduate volunteers, and coordinating times with teachers to attend the schools and do the lessons with the children. While I did check to see if the lessons were appropriate and sound and occasionally stepped in to help with logistics of coordinating undergraduate volunteers, I was only minimally involved. I did have concerns initially that PhUn Week wouldn’t be as beneficial for the elementary students, but those turned out to be unfounded. The elementary students had a blast, the undergraduate volunteers had a blast, and the graduate students had a blast. The elementary teachers praised the volunteers and said that the lessons were effective and appropriate. But I was also getting incredible feedback from my graduate and undergraduate students. Many of them stated that it helped them understand physiology better having to think about it at such a simple level, and also reminded them why they were in the field in the first place, re-energizing them in their own studies.

The next year, fortunately for my research, I did not have research funding issues, but I also did not have graduate students that I could dedicate to PhUn Week. Utilizing what I had learned was possible from my graduate students the previous year, I decided to try something similar. I recruited volunteers in early September from our major’s “Exercise science” club by going to their monthly meeting, and talking about PhUn Week for 5 minutes. Over 20 people signed up. I contacted students who had volunteered the year before and asked if they would be willing to be a group leader. With my group leaders established, I called a “planning meeting” and provided the volunteers with the state’s essential learning standards for K-12 that were relevant to physiology, and let the group leaders discuss their thoughts on which ones they wanted to address and how. Volunteers then signed up with specific group leaders, contact information was shared, and an initial plan was established (i.e. Group 1 will be teaching the cardiovascular system to 5th graders). I gave the volunteers deadlines to meet including having a lesson plan approved by me 2 weeks prior to PhUn Week with a list of materials they needed. We had one more meeting in the week prior to PhUn Week where we made sure everyone had what they needed to complete their lessons and knew when and where to be, and that was it. As far as planning was concerned, I had not had to done any time consuming work, and the college student volunteers were having an educational experience too.

During PhUn Week, I attended the volunteer-led sessions as my schedule allowed, and helped out when I could, but otherwise, I was just observing and taking note of what worked well and what didn’t. By all measures, PhUn Week was once again a resounding success. We had quadrupled the number of elementary students involved, and the college volunteers had a meaningful experience that was truly theirs. The feedback I received from the elementary students, their teachers, and the college student volunteers was better than the feedback I had received when I had put in quadruple the time to PhUn Week. I had worked less and make PhUn Week better!

If you want to work less and have a student volunteer-led PhUn Week, here are my Top 5 Tips:

  1. Find volunteers early – PhUN Week is the first week of November, but undergraduate schedules are the least busy in August/September. Get them organized early or you’ll run into scheduling conflicts later.
  2. Recruit volunteers from in-majors clubs or other academic groups with physiology ties – in my experience, these students are usually the ones more likely to sign-up, show-up, and do a good job.
  3. Relinquish control – give the volunteers ownership of their own projects. They get a better experience overall, but also having a vested interest in the project really brings out the best in many students.
  4. Give parameters – Provide the Essential Learning Standards for the grade levels you’re working with and the PhuN Week webpage or LifeSciTRC , but allow volunteers to decide what to do and how to do it.
  5. Establish a designated contact/group leaders – logistics can quickly get complicated when working with undergraduate student schedules and K-12 schedules, smaller groups can help with this. Having someone who has previously volunteered for PhUn Week to organize the small group helps this and keeps the dozens of scheduling/meeting e-mails out of your inbox!
Ed Merritt is an assistant professor of kinesiology at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas. Ed received his doctorate in kinesiology from the University of Texas at Austin and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in Cellular and Integrative Biology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine. Ed’s research focuses on the molecular events when things go wrong in skeletal muscle. Ed is also involved in the scholarship of teaching and learning and melding educational outreach activities with service learning. He is a member of the American Physiological Society (APS), serving on the Education Committee and Teaching Section Steering Committee.
From graduate student participant to first-time project coordinator: My PhUn Week story.

I was first introduced to the wonderful world of “PhUn Week” as a doctoral student in 2012. A faculty member had partnered with their son’s 6th grade teacher and asked for graduate student volunteers to carry out and organize the festivities. Eager to get out of the research lab and engage in some community outreach efforts, I quickly volunteered. I next found myself reviewing our lesson plan for the digestive system, “How to make poop!”. The first page of the lesson plan read a point of caution: “Only teachers who can deal with planned pandemonium should attempt this”. What had we gotten ourselves in to?

During our weeks of preparation, we collected all the materials necessary to “make poop” and conducted a few test-runs to ensure we were adequate “poop makers”. In November we were greeted by a classroom full of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed 6th graders who fell on the floor in laughter when they heard the word “poop”. After several minutes of wrangling in the forewarned pandemonium, our lesson plan was underway. Never before had I felt so passionate about the importance of mechanical digestion by the teeth or the critical role of pancreatic enzymes. I quickly found myself naturally falling into the role of an educator that day. It was a new sense of satisfaction I hadn’t experienced before, but I knew I wanted more! Not only did my first PhUn Week experience help to inspire those 6th grade students, unbeknownst to me, it also inspired my future career track. I participated again as a graduate student in 2013, but knew that wouldn’t be my last involvement. (Please see the file provided below for more details on the Digestive System activity, The Digestive System (How to Make Poop).pdf)

Fast forward to 2016, I was one year into my faculty position with Butler University’s College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences teaching Anatomy & Physiology to our Master of Physician Assistant Studies students. I found myself missing the community engagement and decided to take on my first PhUn Week as lead project coordinator. I always knew I wanted my first independent PhUn Week event to take place at Pleasant View Elementary (Zionsville, IN). I attended Pleasant View as a kid and knew this would be a great way to give back to an incredible school system. I next sought out the partnership of my sister-in-law and Pleasant View’s STEM/literacy coach, Kathy Drake, M.A. To my pleasant surprise, Kathy’s ambitions were even greater than my own! Next thing I knew, for my first stab at coordinating a PhUn Week event, we had decided to plan activities for the entire school (over 800 Pre-K – 4th grade students and 40 teachers).

With the PhUn Week theme being exercise and health, we decided to focus primarily on cardiovascular physiology. To help with our efforts I recruited 2 peers, senior physiology PhD students from Indiana University School of Medicine, and 12 of my Physician Assistant (PA) students from Butler University. The entire team worked together to create an exciting and diverse lesson plan including the following activities:

  • The Blood Maze
  • Cardiovascular Response to Exercise
  • Careers in Physiology, “What is Physiology?”
  • CPR Awareness
  • The Anatomy Challenge

Pleasant View students were first introduced to the basic anatomy of the heart and circulatory system, followed by a discussion of the importance of oxygen delivery to our entire body (head to toes). To demonstrate this concept, students and their teachers participated in an activity called the “Blood Maze”. Red blood cells (mini red frisbees) were delivered from the left side of the heart to the head and extremities (represented by plastic buckets with pictures taped onto them). Once the oxygen was delivered, students then returned blue blood cells back to the right heart to be sent to the lungs to pick up fresh oxygen. The students were asked to repeat the maze, this time jogging, to demonstrate an increase in blood flow rate. (Please see page 2 of the file provided below for more details on the Blood Maze activity, DrakePhUnWeekActivities2016.pdf)

After completing the maze, students then participated in a variety of exercise activities (jogging, hopping, skipping, jump rope, and hula-hoops) to witness the changes in their own heart rate. My PA students brought along their stethoscopes so they could help students listen to their hearts working hard inside their bodies. The importance of exercise and heart health was further reinforced.

3rd & 4th graders were allotted extra time in order to partake in additional activities including a careers information session during which the fields of physiology research and teaching were introduced to them as well as the PA profession including its similarities and differences to doctors and nurse practitioners. (Please see brief slide deck provided below for reference, DrakeWhatIsPhyisology.pdf)

Students then watched a short CPR educational video and were able to “practice” on a training manikin. The song “Staying Alive” by the Bee Gees was played and used as a tempo guide (a small dance party also ensued). The goal of this session was to bring awareness to what CPR is, why/when CPR would be performed, and what it looks like in order to hopefully remove any fear or discomfort related to student’s perception of CPR.


The final activity, the “Anatomy Challenge”, was a crowd favorite. Working with the Butler PA students, the elementary students solved an anatomy puzzle. Anatomical models of the human torso were used to teach the students about our internal organs, what they look like, their functions, and how they fit together inside our bodies.

Not only did the teachers and students of Pleasant View enjoy their PhUn Week experience, so did my graduate students:

It was really great to watch the kids’ eyes light up as they listened to a heartbeat through the stethoscope. You could see the dots connecting in their brains as we talked about the heart beat getting faster with exercise. It’s always “PhUn” to take what you love and get to spark interest in others and that’s exactly what we got to do at Pleasant View Elementary. As much as I think they enjoyed the days, I think we got a major confidence boost in our abilities to relay information that we’ve been learning over the years as well. – Kelsey Berggren, Butler PA Student ‘18

We walked away from our 2016 PhUn Week efforts confident that we achieved our goal of stimulating young student brains by introducing them to the field of physiology! Deciding to tackle your first independent PhUn Week event can be daunting, but I can say I am now more confident than ever and eager to begin planning for future events. As long as you’re passionate about inspiring the next generation of scientists, that passion will be contagious and you can do no wrong!


Mikaela L. Drake, Ph.D. is an  Assistant Professor of Health  Sciences at the College of  Pharmacy & Health Sciences    Butler University Indianapolis, IN.


Spartans Stand Together in Service – MSU PhUn Day

Michigan State University (MSU) continuously strives to fulfill its mission of making a positive difference, both locally and globally, through educational tools. Thus, a large-scale community engagement project such as PhUn Day, not only helps tie MSU to a national outreach initiative in physiology put forth by the APS but also is an important tool for enriching local communities and promoting broader ideals among students. Each year, the event gains momentum and it becomes increasingly important for the outreach coordinators to strategically organize and plan to ensure that this is truly an experience that helps students reinforce physiological concepts while inspiring them to become dynamic citizen leaders.  This year’s event is the 5th annual PhUn Day, which was held at Impression 5 Science Center (Lansing, MI) on Saturday November 5th, 2016. This event required 133 volunteers to operate 16 different stations and attracted over 900 attendees.


 I. Campus Involvement

An underlying goal of our PhUn Day, aided by the magnitude of the event, is to demonstrate professionalism to our student body. By implementing institution-wide teamwork, we sought to model and inspire dynamic professional skill-building to our students, include all individuals on campus with skills to offer and use educational tools to make a positive difference in our local community.

The past 5 years enabled us to build a diverse network of backgrounds and units across the entire 15-mile campus to support and sustain the event:

 1.  The Physiology Department:

  • Funded supplies
  • Rented larger technology items
    • Laptops
    • Cameras

2.  Faculty, staff, retirees, and students:

  • One faculty member/one staff member designated as volunteer outreach coordinators
  • Formed planning committee across multiple position types
  • Packed PhUn bags (APS backpacks)
    • Reserved department conference room
    • Filled bags with crayons, handouts, APS career trading cards, etc.
    • Open house packing format – individuals contributed for short/long periods of time
  • Loaded and transported supplies to the venue
  • Volunteered at the event
  • Advertised the event via flyers, social media, listservs and word of mouth within/outside of campus

3.  Research faculty:

  • Donated common research-related items
    • Test tubes – DNA activity
    • Microcentrifuge tubes – blood/immunity activity
  • Collected cardboard boxes from lab shipments for transportation of materials
  • Offered expertise
    • Volunteered at stations related to their research
    • Created supplementary activities based on familiarity with topics

4. Teaching faculty and academic advisor:

  • Primary recruiters of undergraduate volunteers via class email lists and close-knit relationships
  • Incorporated service learning into the classroom
    • Extra credit
    • Honors’ Option credit for crafting a new outreach activity
    • Department/laboratory course resources provided (scissors, glue, posters, etc.)

5. Teams from undergraduate clubs and societies volunteered:

  • Biochemistry Club, Human Biology Club, Neuroscience Club, Physiology Society, Pre-Medicine Club and Pre-Physician Assistant Club.
  • Clubs offered points for participation
  • Club volunteers encouraged to wear t-shirts promoting their organization

6.  Graduate students and societies:

  • The Physiology department, other related colleges and the American Physician Scientists Association
  • Acted as station leaders
    • Research interests aligned with station
    • Gained experience
      • Practical application of course information
      • Taught a general audience
      • Mentored, oversaw and worked together with their team

7.  The MSU College of Human Medicine and College of Osteopathic Medicine:

  • Lent anatomical models for display
  • Generated unique videos that illustrated physiological events using advanced equipment (MRI or ultrasound)

8.  Departments from other colleges:

  • Division of Histology explored cells, tissues and microscopy
  • Neuroscience program facilitated nerve stimulation and mediated handling of brains
  • Social Science collected data for research regarding gender differences involved in student interactions and responsiveness

9.  Advertising campaigns:

  • MSU newspaper/radio broadcast across the entire campus whereas flyers alone would be limited

10.  The MSU Center for Service Learning and Civic Engagement (CSLCE)

  • Provided bus tokens to volunteers for transportation (venue off-campus)
  • Advertised to individuals seeking service opportunities

II. Shifts/Coordination of Volunteers

Shifts were divided into full (9:30am-4:30pm) or half (morning: 9:30am-1:00pm, afternoon: 12:30-4:30pm) days. A slight overlap of time between shifts accounted for late arrivals. A Google Spreadsheet link was circulated via email and volunteers signed up on their own. Many chose to work a full day but split shifts between two different stations. Each station required one team leader and 3-10 volunteers, based on difficulty of the tasks performed.

One month prior to the event, team leaders met with the outreach coordinators to familiarize themselves with the materials and activities. For more difficult activities, additional volunteer training sessions could be needed beforehand. Two weeks in advance, all volunteers attended a training by the venue to receive facility rules and tips for interacting with children.

III.  Stations


Station Title


Careers What’s A Physiologist? Welcome/Exit station

Introduction to careers in physiology

Animal Physiology How do you keep warm? Compare mammalian insulation methods using plastic bags in cold water that were empty or filled with feathers/Crisco (“fat”)
Medicine You’re the Doctor! Explore equipment (stethoscopes, BP cuffs, tendon hammers, lab coats, etc.) and how they are used in practice
Artery Assessment How Does Your Blood Flow? (Healthy Heart Race) Race through arteries, observe impacts of atherosclerosis using a blood flow model of gallon jugs, red-colored water and a two-way valve
Cell Physiology Discovering DNA Practice DNA extraction using strawberries
Muscle Muscle Mania! Measure strength using PowerLab hardware, a grip force transducer and LabChart software
Breathing How “Full of Hot Air” are you? Investigation of lung models and volume measurements using tubs of water, gallon jugs (with L measurements) and tubing to blow through
Exploring histology and microscopy (no poster) MSU Histology demonstrates microscope use, offers craft supplies to build 8×11″ paper cell models
Cardiovascular What’s inside your heart? A coloring station, anatomical heart models, walkable floor map of the circulatory system, stethoscope experiments
Vision Exploration Do you see what I see? Various vision tests like color blindness, negative afterimage, etc.; anatomical eye models, station to build spinning color wheels
Neuroscience (no poster) The MSU Neuroscience Club demonstrates neural stimulation of a muscle, showcases real brains
Osteology Bone Physiology & Skeleton Puzzle A large floor puzzle of the human skeletal system, exploration of bone physiology using real human skeletons
GI Physiology The Question of Digestion Naming puzzle of GI system, models for peristalsis using tights and Easter eggs, observation of MRI videos
Oral Physiology Tooth be Told! Egg carton models with black glue for cavities and aluminum foil for fillings to illuminate importance of oral hygiene
Hematology Blood Understanding blood, its composition and purpose, building models of normal blood/centrifuged blood by filling tubes various candies
Face Painting MSU Undergraduate Physiology Society 25+ images for painting on child’s face or arm, donations accepted
Physio Photo-booth (no poster) Photo station with a giant “Physiology” man with the face cutout or physiology props to hold

IV. Summary

PhUn Day is the flagship outreach event for our department and generates a lot of excitement every year. Although this largely focuses on logistics and fostering institution-wide participation, we recognize service as a mutually beneficial relationship. This event brings a lot of attention to our local science center and shares resources with our community members. Therefore, this is a novel learning opportunity that enables MSU to form innovative partnerships while simultaneously stimulating civic awareness.


Valerie VanRyn is an Instructional Laboratory Technologist at Michigan State University (MSU) in East Lansing, MI. Her role includes developing and maintaining undergraduate Physiology teaching labs on campus, assisting with the medical school labs, co-coordinating the departmental outreach, mentoring a number of student activities and educational papers. In addition to her work at MSU, she serves as the Secretary-Treasurer on the Executive Committee of the Michigan Physiological Society (MPS), a local chapter of the American Physiological Society (APS), and on the CAC 2017 Planning Committee for the APS.  She received her B.S. in Physiology from Michigan State University in 2015.
Build community partnerships through PhUn Week: It Works

I became aware of PhUn Week during my time as the 2010-2011 APS K-12 Minority Outreach Fellow.  A requirement of the fellowship was to conduct PhUn Week activities in at least one classroom.  The goal was to take a scientist out of the lab and place them in a local school and it worked.  That year, over 1,100 K-12 students in six schools in San Antonio, TX were engaged in science outreach and it helped me establish seven years of partnerships with K-12 educators, schools, and community members.


 Types of university-community partnerships: What can you handle?

The types of partnerships you can establish vary.  PhUn Week activities are flexible and adaptable to fit a single one-time project or be developed into long-term, on-going continuum of projects.  Before choosing the type of partnership, take time to get to know your potential partner(s) – teachers, schools, administrators, or organizations.  Talk openly and listen carefully. Learn about each other.  Get a sense about the school district, the population they serve, demographics, barriers, culture, and purpose for the visit.  This process takes time and patience.  Keeping your long-term commitments in mind, realize you are determining fit, the level of partnership, and type of relationship you will establish:  high-level commitment + needs trust; low commitment + loose connection.

Consider your involvement carefully before you make a commitment.  PhUn Week activities are adjusted to fit various needs from a one-hour classroom visit or adapted to a gymnasium with 100 fifth-graders.  This is also a time to consider resources needed (How many volunteers? What supplies?).  Set realistic timelines, roles, responsibilities, and expectations.  Don’t be afraid to start small.  Small is good.  A small start is better than no start.

As the community partnership builds, share the decision-making process.  Find common goals and agree on activities that meet shared missions or outcomes.  For some partnerships, I have made science presentations and conducted hands-on activities in a 45-minute to a bilingual classroom (English/Spanish) during Career Day.  At other occasions, I engaged an entire grade level (K-5th and special needs classes) at a time in a gymnasium with group activities (over 500 students in one day).  At the middle school level, spending two full days (due to block schedules) in science classrooms where students rotated through five stations – then repeated the process for each class period till the students in an entire grade level participated.  PhUn week works well to create community partnerships and we have successfully adapted to various events. 


Sustaining and deepening university-community partnerships

Planning PhUn Week activities is just the beginning.  For projects where you wish to establish long-term relations, the partnerships must be sustained and deepened.  In this case, it is important for partners to work together, celebrate, and reflect on the experience.  Work with the K-12 teachers and school to set clear roles and expectations. Rather than take on the huge burden of doing PhUn Week activities alone, work together.  Be clear about what you can and cannot do.  Even when you do the planning, unforeseen events happen.  When volunteers don’t show up and you have to run 5 stations on your own, don’t panic.  Invite teachers, mature students, or others to step in help.  Ask for help.  By working together, relationships deepen.

Partnerships will improve when you take the time to celebrate and reflect on the experience.  Your work is not done when PhUn week is over.  The time after the event is a time to celebrate what was accomplished.  Partners put in lots of time and resources into the event.  Don’t minimize the impact of the event, rather celebrate the planning and execution of the activities.  Were your goals achieved?  Reflect and get feedback on the things that went well and did not.  Take note of lessons learned from both partners.  Some feedback and reflection is done immediately after the event; however you may need time for other feedback to be collected (demographics, volunteer hours, resources used, costs, etc.).  To this day, my favorite feedback about PhUn Week experience is when students complete a pre-visit and post-visit “Draw-A-Scientist” activity (APS, e-DAS Handout).  It may take a few days to collect student’s drawings and to visit with the teacher.

Recently, we tailored PhUn Week activities to university-community partnership that addressed social issues.  Social accountability and community engagement are major directives of the School of Osteopathic Medicine at the University of Incarnate Word and are integrated into the mission statement, strategic plan, and curriculum.  We took PhUn week activities outside the walls of the university and into the heart of the community. Over 3,000 people from across the city took part in the 2016 Science Fiesta in downtown San Antonio.  PhUn week activities were modified to a large, public, city-wide, free event where people of all ages to were invited to engage in hands-on science activities (PhUn Week style) and included an opportunity to “Meet a Scientist” and “Meet a Clinician.”  In this case, PhUn week helped us address social justice issues, engage vulnerable populations, and be positioned to help promote science, health, and education during the Science Fiesta.


Additional information about PhUn Week projects can be found at


American Physiological Society, 2007. PhUn Week 2006: Promoting the Understanding of Physiology in K-12 Classrooms. Physiologist, April, 50(2), pp. 62-63.

Jacobson, D. L., 2010. A new agenda for education partnerships stakeholder learning collaboratives. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 25 March.Volume 33.

Kerrigan, s., Reitenauer, V. & Arevalo-Meier, N., 2015. Enacting True Partnerships within Community-Based Learning: Faculty and Community Partners Reflect on the Challenges of Engagement. Metropolitan Universities, 26(3), pp. 63-78.

National Education Association Education Policy and Practice Department, 2008. Center for Great Public Schools. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 22 June 2017].

US Department of Education, n.d. Science, Technology, Engineering and Math: Education for Global Leadership. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 22 June 2017].

Zerhouni, E., 2008. NIH Director Newsletter. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 20 July 2014].


  Dr. Jessica M. Ibarra, PhD is an Assistant Professor of Clinical and Applied Science Education and a founding faculty member in the School of Osteopathic Medicine at the University of the Incarnate Word (UIW) in San Antonio, TX.  Dr. Ibarra teaches gross anatomy and neuroanatomy.  Dr. Ibarra began her undergraduate studies at Palo Alto College and earned an Associate of Science in Biology degree.  She completed her Bachelor of Science in Biology at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Dr. Ibarra earned her doctorate degree in Cellular and Structural Biology from the UT Health San Antonio where she also attended dental school and completed a postdoctoral fellowship. As a scientist, she conducted studies to explore the role of key inflammatory factors involved in chronic diseases such as heart failure, arthritis, and diabetes.  When Dr. Ibarra is not teaching, she inspires students to be curious about science with visits to local schools.  She has participated in science outreach through the APS Physiology Understanding Week, at the Science Fiesta, and the USA Science Engineering Festival in Washington, DC.  Dr. Ibarra’s passion for teaching and service translates into facilitating learning in the next generation scientists and physicians. She is active in APS as a member of the Porter Physiology and Minority Affairs Committee, Secretary of the History of Physiology Interest Group, a PECOP Fellow and a LifeSciTRC Vision and Change Fellow.
An Introduction to Physiology Understanding (PhUn) Week

What is PhUn Week?

PhUn Week is a nationwide outreach program building connections between scientists and their local schools. PhUn Week is distinctive for two reasons:

  • It fosters grassroots partnerships between biomedical researchers and K-12 teachers; and
  • It is carried out into classrooms by “citizen scientists” composed of a senior researcher along with his or her undergraduate, graduate, or postdoctoral students.

Individual physiologists, physiology departments, and regional chapters of the APS all coordinate PhUn Week events and activities during the first full week of November, ranging from single classroom visits to large-scale local events at schools, universities and museums.


The goals of PhUn Week are to:

  • Increase student interest in and understanding of physiology in their lives.
  • Increase teacher recognition of physiology in their standards-based science curriculum.
  • Introduce students to physiology as a possible career.
  • Involve more physiologists in outreach to the students and teachers in their communities.

How Does the PhUn Week Community Interact?

  • LifeSciTRC: PhUn Week Community members submit items in a number of formats including sample activities, posters that have been presented during the EB PhUn Week Poster Session, and journal articles.  These items are searchable using keywords: PhUn Week, K-12 Outreach, and EB Poster Session.
  • EB PhUn Week Poster Session: The session  is a highly interactive poster and networking session, highlighting outreach efforts by diverse physiologists working with preschool through 12th grade students and their teachers. Attendees meet PhUn week participants, learn details about the varied PhUn week activities held the previous year, ask questions, share best practices, and get advice on their own future PhUn week activities.
  • Blog: We hope this blog allows community members to reach a broader community of physiologists and teachers to share strategies for carrying out PhUn Week events and foster partnerships between schools/teachers and researchers.

How can I participate?

The PhUn Week website offers on-demand information and supporting materials. It provides numerous resources for physiologists to use in planning their PhUn week events, curricular materials for teachers to use in their classroom to expand on the physiologist’s visit, and career planning materials for guidance counselors and teachers to use in guiding future physiologists into the field.


PhUn Week History

The program started in 2005 with a field test in a limited number of sites and has grown steadily since. Formative goals for the first 10 years of the program included program growth (sites, participants, and leaders), diversification of program models, and development of a community of practice of physiologists and trainees involved in outreach. Eleven years of member-provided data indicates that the formative goals are being met.  Over 100,000 K-12 students have been reached during the last decade as an increasing pool of physiologists took part in a growing number of events including a number of international events.  The number and types of PhUn Week events have steadily increased as a community of practice has formed to support the program. Future program goals include targeting regional areas for PhUn Week participation, establishing research collaborations to further explore program impacts on students and teachers, and providing on-demand training for physiologists.


Margaret Shain Stieben is the Program Manager for K-12 Education Programs at the American Phys­i­o­log­i­cal Soci­ety. Her main responsibilities include developing, organizing, and implementing education projects aimed at promoting professional development opportunities for middle and high school science teachers and outreach opportunities among physiologists and K-12 teachers across the nation. This includes the Frontiers in Physiology Research Fellowship Program, PhUn Week, Local Science Fair Awards, APS Special Awards at the International Science and Engineering Fair and promoting career development in K-12 classrooms. She works extensively with both the Education and Careers Opportunity Committees on these projects and regularly attends meetings and conferences to give presentations about these programs.