Review by Jenny Bristol, Common Sense Education | Updated March 2014

Build-a-Cell

Cell-builder light on play, heavy on facts

Subjects & skills
Subjects
  • Science

Skills
  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
4–12
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Teachers say (4 Reviews)
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Pros: Tons of well-presented information covering different types of cells.

Cons: A lack of playfulness leaves students wondering whether they're playing or merely walking through a lesson.

Bottom Line: As far as games go, Build-a-Cell won't wow, but for self-motivated students looking to dig into cell structure, it provides some sound interactive exploration.

Teachers can assign outside worksheets or other structured resources for students to complete as they build each cell, and to make sure students are extending and applying their learning. Avoid timing students, as this will encourage them to click through the exercise without absorbing the information. Teachers can also use Build-a-Cell as a part of larger science lessons contained on the Spongelab website. To extend learning, get students to use basic crafting and building materials (or maybe even digital platforms like Minecraft) to create a model of a cell.

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Build-a-Cell bills itself as a game, but don't expect anything flashy. It's more of a click and drag interactive app that shows students the inner components of a variety of cells, including plants, animals, fungi, and bacteria. Students drag each portion of the cell into the main part of the screen and see information pertaining to each organelle added. Some cell parts must also be built before they can be added, providing extra detail.

There's no question that Build-a-Cell has tons of information to offer students; the issue is that it's only a small step above a textbook, offering very little in the way of gameplay. Lacking this game-based incentive, Build-a-Cell risks falling prey to the very thing games are often built to combat -- disengagement. However, self-motivated students will find enough interesting information to satisfy most assignments and curricula about cells. In this way, Build-a-Cell is one of those activities that should be used very thoughtfully. If students' expectations are tempered, or if it's only used with students already bitten by the biology bug, it can offer a nice change of pace to research and textbook study.

Overall Rating

Engagement Would it motivate students and hold their interest? Is it visually appealing? Would it inspire teachers to try something new or change their instruction?

While very detailed and full of facts, Build-a-Cell leaves little to the imagination. It's not necessarily going to grab most students, but for some it can yield great knowledge gain.

Pedagogy Does the tool help teachers promote a more student-centered experience? Will students gain conceptual understanding or think critically? Does it deepen teachers’ pedagogical thinking?

The interface is nicely designed, and there's plenty of deep information about cells, but too little context and learning design. Some students will see it as little more than a point-and-click dictionary.

Support Can students and teachers get assistance when they need it? Is it created with people of different abilities and backgrounds in mind? Is learning reinforced and extended beyond the digital experience?

Like a self-guided tour of different kinds of cells, there's good information but not much help getting through it. There's also a lack of audio, and a marginally helpful "help" overlay.


Teacher Reviews

(See all 4 reviews) (4 reviews) Write a review
Featured review by
Rachel D. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Kirkpatrick Middle School
Fort Worth, United States
Great online interactive for animal and plant cell learning! Great info. Not spectacular but better than looking at a diagram. Get to build it yourself.
Build-a-cell is a great tool for right when you introduce the topic of cells. It has a lot of great information about animal and plant cell components. I use it with my 6th graders and it is not the coolest thing they will do but it is definitely better than just looking at a diagram. I like that the actually have to build the cell and put all the organelles together. The above average rating that teachers and Common Sense Education gives this app is accurate.
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