About Me

Biology Major at the College of William and Mary, PhD in Physiology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University, Professor of Biology at Vassar College.


A favorite place is the coast of Maine

Teaching interests include introductory biology, cell biology, neuroscience, neurobiology, physiology, science writing, science and society.


2 thoughts on “About Me

  1. Hi,

    I teach a introductory high school biology course in Byron Center, MI. I am looking for examples of biology being taught around a theme. I came across your blog posting from August of 2012.(See below) I couldn’t find your “next posting” where you describe your themes. I have been thinking about one semester focusing on disease and the other on feeding a growing population. Any theme ideas you might share would be greatly appreciated.

    There are two approaches I’ve found to be successful.

    1. The first is to organize the fundamental concepts of introductory biology around a current topic or area of study. For example, one year I organized my introductory cell biology course around two themes. The first half of the course we considered Cystic Fibrosis. To learn about this disease, we needed to know about cell membranes, ions and ion channels, cell energetics and use of ATP. Because it’s a genetically inherited disease, concepts like Mendelian transmission genetics, gene expression, mutations, and the like also fit well with this theme. The AP students focused on the disease and found the reinforcement of what they’d learned in AP Bio to be very helpful in understanding the disease. The other students focused on the fundamental concepts and began to understand the disease growing out of that foundation. To keep the biology “fresh”, switch topics for the second half of the semester. That year, we examined the biology of cancer and studied mutations, DNA replication, cell division and cell cycle, regulation of gene expression under that umbrella. The themes give you the opportunity to introduce students to the primary experimental literature too. My most recent introductory courses are organized around a single, semester-long theme (see the next posting for a description of that!). The trick is to come up with a theme that allows you to address multiple foundational biological concepts in an organized way

    • Hi, Thanks for checking in! Here are some organizing themes I have used with great success for introductory biology:
      1. Evo-Devo (Insights into Biodiversity): This theme works for all levels of biological organization, from gene/cell through population/evolution. This is my favorite theme and I’m happy to share more info with you if you’d like.
      2. Cancer (I had noted this in my original post last August, along with the Cystic Fibrosis theme)
      3. Another I’ve tried is the Origins of Life

      I have some very creative colleagues who have used some other very successful organizing themes: Biology of HIV; Domestication (Dogs, Agriculture, etc); Pests and Pestilence; Microbial Wars.

      Let me know if you’d like more information.

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