CellEnergy is an iOS educational app developed to teach the basics of photosynthesis and cellular respiration for high school life-science courses. Through our many exploratory interviews with biology teachers, photosynthesis was identified as a particularly difficult subject area to engage students with, both because of its abstract nature and the invisible cellular processes it involves.
CellEnergy exemplifies a hybrid approach to learning apps, in which the focus is primarily on learning outcomes with gamelike elements incorporated to make complex processes visible in an engaging and a playful way. The activities in CellEnergy are based on multiple evidence-based learning practices, such as retrieval practice, spaced learning, and immediate feedback. Virtual labs provide inquiry-based learning and reinforcement of science practices in the context of photosynthesis.
Our project culminated in a cluster randomized controlled trial that included more than 600 students in 22 high school biology classrooms. We demonstrated that using CellEnergy resulted in significantly greater learning gains in both photosynthesis concept knowledge and science practices knowledge compared to standard instruction.