Website review by Emily Pohlonski, Common Sense Education | Updated August 2016

Cogent Education

Think like a scientist: Solve biology case studies

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Subjects & Skills
Science, Critical Thinking

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Pros: Students use science to solve a problem instead of simply memorizing facts.

Cons: There is some heavy vocabulary, and a linear approach misses some opportunities to learn about the nature of science.

Bottom Line: Practice problem-solving skills and learn biology through interactive case studies.

Teachers can best use Cogent Education in advanced biology and AP biology classes to launch a unit. The case studies give students an authentic reason to learn the content; students develop real curiosity about why the coral in the Great Barrier Reef is bleaching. By putting the scientific phenomena first, kids will be more motivated to learn about concepts such as photosynthesis and cellular respiration when they attempt to solve the problems. 

It is important to provide pause points for students during cases, asking them to leave their computers and discuss the progress they've made. Science is a social enterprise, and thinking like a scientist requires sharing and building on the ideas of others. Teachers can also use Cogent cases as a project for students to apply knowledge at the end of the unit, or as homework to challenge interested young scientists. Prepare ahead of time by downloading the cases to a computer before students start using them.

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Cogent Education helps students learn biology by first presenting them with a real problem to solve. Kids work independently through case studies on the computer. Each case is designed to develop empathy, causing students to care about what they're learning. Compelling videos drive students to figure out answers, such as how to help a sick baby cow named Clark. Simulations allow students to zoom into Clark's brain and use the concept of osmosis to stop his seizures.

Cogent Education asks students to write a hypothesis and run an investigation to test that hypothesis. After viewing their results, they can modify their hypothesis and run another test. Teachers track individual student progress and provide immediate feedback through SABLE, a built-in formative assessment tool.

Cogent Education empowers students to think like scientists as they write hypotheses and run investigations. Kids design, test, and improve along the way. Keep in mind that even when you select the "Regular Biology" option, the content can be beyond the scope outlined in the Next Generation Science Standards. To solve the Photosynthesis Case, students must understand details of both photosystems and the Calvin cycle. Immediately after they are presented with a case problem, kids are asked to dive directly into this heavy vocabulary, likely without really understanding why it's important or necessary. 

One of the strongest components of Cogent Education is each student's final case summary. This is authentic scientific writing because, in the case of the sick baby cow, veterinarians do write up their cases for animal owners. Teachers will love the opportunity for their students to engage in the NGSS practice of constructing explanations and designing solutions. Cogent Education explicitly asks students to demonstrate their understanding by backing up their treatment solution with evidence that they've collected throughout the case. There is one clear right answer to each of the cases. While this structure could feel good, it might mislead students about the true nature of science. Because the cases are so cut and dried, there are missed opportunities for interesting discussions about trade-offs.

Overall Rating


Placing the problem up front is engaging to students. They may get bogged down in heavy vocabulary and an outdated design.


Science and engineering practices are emphasized with opportunities to test and modify ideas. Students get to make claims and back up those claims with evidence.


Students can alter the difficulty by selecting regular or AP Biology prior to beginning a case. Clear scaffolding guides kids through the problem.

Common Sense reviewer
Emily Pohlonski Classroom teacher

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Featured review by
Denice E. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Teaches data-based, critical thinking and problem solving skills used in the real world!
I began using the Cogent Case Studies years ago and now find them an invaluable tool. The animations allow students to experience concepts such as membrane transport, osmosis and cellular respiration (among many others) at the molecular level - this is something that was simply impossible for the students to really see or experience before now. Having the students play the role of a doctor or vet trying to save a patient causes them to really invest in the outcome of the case, and see the value of what ...
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