UAB brings the PhUn back to more students at Deer Valley

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PhUn_class_webFaculty, staff and students from the UAB Department of Physiology and Biophysics were overwhelmed by the success of their Physiology Understanding (PhUn) Week outreach program at Deer Valley Elementary School in Hoover this past year.

They weren’t the only ones.

When Carmel McNicholas-Bevensee, Ph.D., instructor of physiology and biophysics, went to Deer Valley for her children’s orientation earlier this fall, she was pinned down by several teachers: Are you going to be doing PhUn Week again this year?

So Bevensee returned — this time as the director — with more than 40 UAB faculty, staff and student volunteers. But instead of teaching 200 children in two days, they instructed more than 660 students at Deer Valley during a two-week period beginning Nov. 7. The department produced the event with help from Michael Wyss, Ph.D., director of UAB’s Community Outreach and Development (CORD) program, and the American Physiological Society.

First- and third-graders again learned about the heart and lungs and how the body processes the air it breathes. Second- and fourth-graders learned about the digestive system. All classes also received information on keeping their bodies healthy with exercise and proper diet from Stephanie Wallace, M.D., in UAB’s Pediatric Weight Management Program.

 Wayne Richardson, principal of Deer Valley, says everyone enjoys PhUn Week.

“When students meet people who work in the areas that they study, it brings a new relevance to their learning,” Richardson says. “The response has been overwhelming both years. Students were enthusiastic, and a number of teachers came to me afterward and said they felt we need to do this every year.”

Janice Gaiter, a third-grade teacher at Deer Valley who advocated for PhUn Week to return, says her students enjoy the hands-on learning experiences provided.

“I saw the spark the activities ignited in my students this past year,” Gaiter says. “The activities correlated with our human body course of study for science, and the students were very engaged and walked away with experiences that they shared and discussed for weeks.”

PhUn week is an event established by the American Physiological Society that invites its members to volunteer for outreach programs in K-12 classrooms. The purpose is to increase student awareness of physiology in their lives and spark an interest in science.

UAB facilitators designed age-appropriate tasks, and the students participate in hands-on activities.

Students had an opportunity to dress like a scientist, touch and watch sheep lungs in action, look at lung tissue under a magnifying glass, construct and use a lungometer and inflate sheep lungs with a bicycle pump. They also were able to view complete gastrointestinal tracts and pieces of esophagus under a magnifying glass and see a demonstration on how food is absorbed by filling a piece of sausage casing with a glucose solution. The children then used a glucose dipstick to indicate the movement across the casing, thereby mimicking absorption.

This year’s program also will be available to the public at the McWane Center in Birmingham Monday, Jan. 16, 2012.

“We hope it gives them a little bit of an appreciation of how complicated their body is and an interesting in learning about it,” Bevensee says. “The more they know about physiology, the more they have healthy respect for their own bodies.”

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