Fermentation in a Bag

Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Lesson/Lesson Plan , Experiment/Lab Activity
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.



In this lesson from the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC), students investigate the effect of the carbohydrate source on the process of fermentation by bakers yeast.  This simple investigation can serve as an introduction to the comparison of fermentation and cellular respiration or to an in-depth study of biofuels production.  The fermentation occurs in resealable plastic bags, and students measure ethanol and carbon dioxide production.  Supporting materials include instructional supports include background information, videos, student data sheets, and a presentation.  All lesson materials are available for download as a zipped file package.  The GLBRC Education site (https://www.glbrc.org/education) contains many other units, lessons, and other resources to help student learn about biofuels research and prouction.

Intended Audience

Educator and learner
Educational Level
  • High School
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

HS-LS2-3 Construct and revise an explanation based on evidence for the cycling of matter and flow of energy in aerobic and anaerobic conditions.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on conceptual understanding of the role of aerobic and anaerobic respiration in different environments.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include the specific chemical processes of either aerobic or anaerobic respiration.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
This lesson focuses on the chemical changes that occur during yeast fermentation, a process that does not require oxygen like cellular respiration. However, yeast can carry out both process and therefore provide an opportunity to investigate both aerobic and anaerobic processes. Students collect data on ethanol and carbon dioxide production with different feedstocks (e.g., Sugar, Cornmeal, Corn Stover Powder, Sawdust). Following the investigation, students explain why different carbon sources produce different rates of fermentation. The authors encourage teachers to use this lesson as an introduction to an in-depth study of biofuels. It could also be used as the basis for a comparison of fermentation and cellular respiration to strengthen its alignment to this performance expectation.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Presentation slides and student handouts are provided for three parts of the lesson: introduction, investigation, and follow up. Based on evidence from the investigation and information provided by the teacher in the presentation slides, students are asked to explain why the different carbon sources affect the rate of fermentation. Teachers may want to help students develop causal explanations by guiding them to connect their data with the different molecular structures of the carbon sources they used. The lesson does not call for students to review their explanations, but teachers could build this into the lesson after providing feedback or facilitating peer feedback on the initial explanations.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
This lesson focuses on the role of fermentation in producing ethanol for biofuels, rather than its role in providing energy for yeast. However, this investigation could provide a useful foundation for a lesson in which students compare the processes of fermentation and cellular respiration. The yeast used in this investigation actually switch between these two processes based on the availability of glucose in the environment, which might provide an anchoring phenomenon for a lesson comparing the inputs, outputs, and role in the organism for both processes.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
This investigation can serve as a phenomenon that drives student learning about the flow of energy and matter within the processes of fermentation and cellular respiration. Teachers can scaffold student thinking by providing a graphic organizer, like the matter and energy tool in Michigan State University’s Plant Growth and Gas Exchange unit (see page 3 here: http://www.pathwaysproject.kbs.msu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/2012PlantUnit_StudentActivities.pdf). The teacher should also guide students to focus on energy and matter throughout their discussions and writing.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This investigation can serve as a phenomenon to driving further learning about biofuels, fermentation, cellular respiration, and matter and energy transformations. Even as a standalone activity, though, the lesson does provide students with opportunities to engage in three-dimensional learning. The teacher can strengthen the lesson by helping students think explicitly about the crosscutting concept of energy and matter.

  • Instructional Supports: The introductory section of the lesson builds relevance and authenticity by building students’ familiarity with biofuels. Students have opportunities to express ideas by forming predictions, interpreting investigation data, and developing explanations. GLBRC is a Department of Energy research center and research scientists contributed to the development of these education resources. An alternative version of the investigation that follows the 5E instructional model is also provided. This is available in the zipped file package.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: The resource works to elicit direct, observable evidence of three-dimensional learning and allows students to use practices with core ideas and crosscutting concepts to make sense of phenomena. Although it provides assessment opportunities, it does not provide assessment guidelines

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: This is not a technology-based resource.