Proceedings of The Physiological Society

Physiology 2016 (Dublin, Ireland) (2016) Proc Physiol Soc 37, PCA103

Poster Communications

What makes your heart beat? A simple school curriculum-based outreach activity

C. J. Ray1

1. Institute of Clinical Sciences, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, United Kingdom.


In recent years there has been a focus from Government, the General Medical and Medical School's Councils on widening participation in medicine, such that the medical profession reflects the diversity of the population, increases social mobility and so that the medical profession has access to the best students from all backgrounds1. At the University of Birmingham we developed Routes to the Professions: Medicine (R2P) which we believe is unique in the country in providing a complete package of support for potential applicants to medicine who have the academic potential to succeed but are from groups currently under-represented in medicine2. The R2P programme starts for students in Year 10 (14-15 years) with an Insight Day: Medicine, which brings them to the Medical School to participate in a day of interactive activities with staff and students. The day includes various talks related to medicine, however, to increase the value of the day to schools, it has been important to develop curriculum-based interactive activities. Analysis of GCSE and A-level examination board syllabuses in England identified the cardiovascular system as a common topic and therefore the physiology of the heart provided an excellent basis for the development of a short activity that also included group work, numerical skills and data interpretation. The activity, What makes your heart beat?, introduced students to the electrical activity of the heart, relating it to their existing knowledge of the gross anatomy of the heart. In small groups they measured their own electrocardiograms (ECG) and with the help of a staff facilitator were able to make a basic interpretation of the ECG waves using their own knowledge of the cardiac cycle. A short exercise required the students to measure R-R intervals and calculate their heart rate. They were encouraged to compare their results with others and consider the differences. Finally, students recorded their ECGs again during deep breathing to induce respiratory sinus arrhythmia, they calculated heart rate during inspiration and expiration and were able to determine when the heart sped up and slowed down. Evaluation of the day shows that we have successfully targeted students from under-represented groups and that the sessions provided were very useful. What makes your heart beat? is a cheap and easy activity to run, it introduces Year 10 students to physiology as a discipline, and encourages them to apply their school-curriculum based knowledge to an activity that requires numerical and interpretative skills. Feedback from staff suggests that the inclusion of curriculum-based activities boosted students' interest and engagement and therefore increased the value of the event. Making outreach and public engagement activities relevant to the school curriculum may increase uptake and engagement more widely, particularly in under-represented groups.

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