Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

My Science Wedding

I spent two summers in a research lab at Yale thanks to a NIH funded program for teachers to gain research experience. While there, I got to know a cute, clever neuroscientist who won me over with his amazing fruit fly brain dissection skills and his funny German accent. We eventually fell in love and got engaged!

So, when it came to designing the Save the Date for our wedding we wanted to have a little fun and acknowledge how we met. The postcard we created highlights our biology backgrounds by emphasizing the evolutionary process in our selection of one another (the idea was not my own, I copied it from a cute Valentine’s Day card).


Photo by Duc Nguyen

For Michael’s German relatives we wrote underneath, “Wissenschaft hat uns zusammengebracht.” Which means, science brought us together.

It was important to us that our wedding day be fun and showcase our science backgrounds. While the ceremony stayed pretty true to tradition, we wanted to have a bit of fun at our reception.

In order to set the tone of the event immediately when guests walked in the door, we created a Dichotomous Key game for our guests to play! Also known as a single-access key, a dichotomous key is a method that helps scientists categorize and identify species by making logical choices in a series of identification steps.

In our game, we assigned each person to an organism that either Michael or I have worked with in our science careers. On their escort card, they received a picture of the organism, its common name, and a brief description of how either Michael or myself once worked with the organism.

A closeup of an escort card, this one showing an organism I have researched.

A closeup of an escort card, this one showing an organism I have researched.

I must stop here just to vent about how hard it was to find cute pictures of the organisms Michael has worked with in his career. As a neuroscientist, his model organisms have been grasshoppers, mice, bees, crayfish, and now fruit flies. I didn’t want guests to be grossed out while eating their meal, so it took quite a bit of searching to find *cute* pictures of fruit flies. I gave up on the crayfish. It was so much easier for my organisms – several adorable seabirds  and a golden eagle! :-)

Once they read their escort card, they were given the Dichotomous Key below:

If you’re having a hard time loading the document above, you can find it here.

You can see from the game instructions that each guest’s mission was to figure out the Latin name of their organism. Once they identified the Latin name, they could find their table which was labeled with a table sign only showing the organism’s Latin name.

Once they identified their organism, guests walked around the room looking for the matching table sign. This one is the Crested Auklet table.

Once they identified their organism, guests walked around the room looking for the matching table sign. This one is the Crested Auklet table.

The point was to just have fun and use an actual scientific method to play a game. So, you can see that the questions and answers weren’t very difficult. You also probably noticed that the table signs had a small silhouette of the organism. We wanted to make sure everyone found the right answer.

We were a little nervous that no one would participate in our geeky science game, but we figured even if they didn’t it would still be attractive decoration. We were thrilled when everyone played and had a great time. It was a great conversation starter. We had a few scientists on the guest list so that helped. Many of Michael’s family members were farmers and they loved playing a game that involved nature. It was a great success!!!

In addition to our game, we had many science-themed decorations at each table. Below is a gallery of photos showcasing all of our science decorations. If you click on a photo you can see it full size.

At the end of it all our guests said it was a “magical” and “fairytale” night. Which really isn’t scientific at all, but we took it as a compliment.

And they lived happily ever after…


Stacy and Michael Kunst

Monday, November 12th, 2012

NYC + Teachers + Teens + Scientists + Social Media = ScienceOnlineTeen!




Click on Look Who’s Coming for more details!!!

Friday, February 24th, 2012

Timeline of Writing a Blog Post

Section of a poster created by Perrin Ireland during a presentation my students gave on challenges they face while blogging. Click on link for full poster.

I was invited to write a blog post for L’Oreal’s For Women in Science blog, Agora.  Thrilled at the invitation, I soon struggled with what to write.  After I finished the post, I decided to share my writing experience with several of my students in the hopes that it will help them see what we all go through when we write a blog post.  Hopefully, it will make them feel more confident in themselves and realize that the fears they have are shared by us all.

Deadline for post: Saturday, Feb 25

Started: Tues, Feb 21

Worried over what to write.  Stared blankly at screen.  Felt anxious.  Decided to work on it tomorrow.

Wed, Feb 22

Couldn’t come up with a beginning.  After about 15 minutes of staring at the screen, I decided to write my purpose for the blog.  What were the points I wanted to make to my audience?  Wrote down two ideas.

Couldn’t come up with anything to write.  Didn’t know how to start.  Decided I needed to start with a story that would hopefully draw my readers in.  Something I experienced in the past.  But, couldn’t think of anything.  Tried not to think of the deadline and decided to work on it tomorrow.

Thursday, Feb 23

Came up with an idea for a beginning and started writing.  Wrote quite a bit, but worried people wouldn’t find it interesting.  But, I kept writing.  Found a way to incorporate my two main points into the post with nice transitions from one to the next.  Felt proud.  Came up with an ending, but felt it was somewhat cheesy.  Started worrying again that no one would like or read my post.  Started doubting why L’Oreal asked me to write it in the first place.  I reminded myself that it was for a good cause, I had two important things to share, and hoped someone would find it interesting.

Sent rough draft to friend for feedback.  Friend liked post and only made a few suggestions.  I started to feel better, though I still had doubts.  Decided a fresh look at it tomorrow would be best.

Friday, Feb 24

Felt better about post.  Rephrased some sentences.  Added some new content.  Printed post out so I could read it on paper.  Seeing it on paper made me catch a few things I wanted to change.  Found a way to write a better ending that revisited the opening story I used.  Asked a different friend to read it for feedback.  Friend also liked post and had only one suggestion.  Made a couple more minor changes.  Printed it out again.  Decided post was final.  Felt a bit nervous.  Knew it wasn’t perfect.  But, satisfied nonetheless.  Excited to see it on L’Oreal’s blog.

Take home message

The main points I hope my students get from this post are the following:

  • everyone experiences self-doubt and anxiety about their writing
  • the important thing is to keep writing; it’s easier to edit and remove bad content then to try to write only great content all the time
  • printing out your post might help you see it in another perspective
  • always ask someone to read your post; better yet, ask two people

Saturday, February 5th, 2011

Why Use Prezi? My presentation at Science Online 2011

Saturday, August 28th, 2010

College Board Lab Files

This post is only for a select group of individuals.  Below are the gene files to use for the lab.  Note that the files do not open on your computer.  They only work when uploaded on the BLAST website.

Gene 1

Gene 2

Gene 3

Gene 4

Please do not email me or comment to this post if you need assistance with this lab. Please use the AP Teacher Community to get help. Thank you!

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

Cladogram Lab Activity


Photo source: Colin Purrington

While it isn’t possible for the average high school biology student to examine real fossils, with a little imagination you can design a really fun “fossil” cladogram activity for your students. Gather some simple household items – kitchen utensils work really well – or instruct your students to bring an item in from home. Break the class into groups of 3 or 4 students and give each group some of the items to examine.

*Note that the more items you give each group, the more difficult the activity becomes. Advanced students can work with between 7-10 items, while less advanced students should be given fewer.

Tell the students to pretend that the items are fossils and that their assignment is to make observations of each “fossil” and use their data to construct a cladogram. Instruct students to look for homologous structures that the fossils share. The structures could be the presence or absence of “teeth”, “appendages”, symmetry, etc.

For example, a salt shaker may have been a filter-feeder with radial symmetry.


Photo source: L. Marie

You can watch this video of some of my students performing this activity to get a better idea of how it can be performed.

Once the students have collected all of their data, they should create a cladogram. Students may feel frustrated initially because it will be difficult to place all of the organisms on the cladogram. Emphasize to students that for this exercise there may not be an exact answer and there are a lot of possible placements for the organisms on the cladogram.

You will want to grade the students on the logic behind their reasoning for placing the fossils on the cladagram in the order in which they did. Have the students present their findings to the class and explain their logic behind how they constructed it. If each group examined the same set of items, there is bound to be some differences in how they decided to construct their cladograms. But, this is exciting! Now, the students can debate their conclusions exactly like real scientists do at academic conferences. Again, grade the students on the clarity in which they present their findings and the logic behind their conclusions.

Check out this blog post a different group of my students wrote about this activity.  The post includes one of the cladograms a student group created and their explanation for how they constructed it.  In the post comments you will find more student discussion.

Monday, April 26th, 2010

Using Blogs in Science Education

Here is my presentation from the NYSAIS Teaching with Technology Conference.

Friday, February 12th, 2010

Using Twitter in the Science Classroom

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

Join The Synapse – a Social Network of Biology Teachers!

I’ve very excited to be one of the administrators of The Synapse, a social network of biology teachers.  It’s quite diverse with teachers across many grade levels and different years of experience.  Please come join us!

Why should you join?  You can share ideas, get help with lesson plans and lab activities, and receive encouragement and emotional support.  There are different groups you can join (general biology, AP Biology, Zoology, etc.) to discuss class specific topics.

If you’ve never used Ning or Facebook or some other social network platform you’ll notice there is a lot going on in the network.  So, let me point out the key steps to getting started.

When you go to the home page, click on Sign Up:

After signing up, check out some of the forum articles and add your own thoughts to the discussions:

Also, join a group:

Once you get comfortable with using the network you’ll notice there are some other really cool things you can do like add videos, music, and pictures.  The more teachers who join the network and share their ideas the better it will be.  I look forward to seeing you on The Synapse!

Saturday, December 20th, 2008

Create a Trailer for Upcoming Class Topics

In my previous post I mentioned that Animoto is great for increasing student interest in topics you cover in class (but not so great for teaching them the actual content).

My students thought I was the coolest teacher ever when I showed them this Animoto trailer I created for our upcoming celebration of Darwin Day:

When they get back from break I’ll show them the trailer for my special Valentine’s Day lesson, The Biology of Love:

Yes, I know both these songs are copyrighted and I’m being a bit baaaaddd by using them, but I don’t think you’ll capture students’ attention by using songs they don’t know. It’s possible I can find some really great creative commons songs to use and I intend on looking for them. But, c’mon! I can’t think of any song cool enough to represent Darwin besides an ACDC song. Does Fair Use work here? I used more than 10% of each song. I need to research that. Does anyone know?

It doesn’t matter if I don’t publish them online I guess, but I like the idea of being able to publish them online where my students can access them later.

Anyway, for those who are wondering about each of the trailers and what I have planned for both special days, I haven’t planned out the Darwin Day presentation, yet. But, my Biology of Love lesson is on slideshare.

It’s pretty infamous. Last year it was the Slideshare of the Day for about two weeks and it’s been downloaded 952 times. I’m unabashedly proud of it. The videos I show aren’t embedded in the slideshare, but most of the presentation is shown. It’s my favorite presentation of the whole year. Can you tell?

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