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


Cell-builder light on play, heavy on facts

Subjects & skills
  • Science

  • 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.
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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 Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

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 Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

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 Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

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

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Featured review by
Darlene P. , Other
Shivela Middle School
Murrieta, United States
Great way to get students to interact with building cells and looking deeper into diseases of cells.
Build-a-cell is a really great, interactive, and informative way to engage students in cell structures. It included many different types of cells and even extends it into looking at different cellular diseases and what the disease does to the cell. I really appreciate the detail and information that each part of the cell allows students to gain information and review. It does need a bit more guiding information and a way to listen to each description or to translate the information into other languages ...
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