Cellular Respiration (Molecular Workbench Curriculum Module)

Dan Damelin for The Concord Consortium, Inc.
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Tutorial , Activity , Informative Text , Interactive Simulation , Model , Numerical/Computer Model , Simulation , Tool/Software
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.


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Most Recent Review

1 Requires Java

Students in our district use chromebooks which are no Java enabled


This interactive module integrates textual information, 3D molecular models, interactive molecular simulations, and embedded assessment items to guide students toward understanding the molecular rearrangements and energy transfers that occur during cellular respiration.  This is a Java-based module that runs as a downloaded, standalone application rather than as a web browser plug-in.    Teachers can view student assessment responses by assigning the module within a class created within the Molecular Workbench application.  The Molecular Workbench home page (http://mw.concord.org/modeler/) provides links to other modules and to teacher support materials.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Undergraduate (Lower Division)
  • High School
Access Restrictions

Free access with user action - The right to view and/or download material without financial barriers but users are required to register or experience some other low-barrier to use.

Performance Expectations

HS-LS1-7 Use a model to illustrate that cellular respiration is a chemical process whereby the bonds of food molecules and oxygen molecules are broken and the bonds in new compounds are formed resulting in a net transfer of energy.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on the conceptual understanding of the inputs and outputs of the process of cellular respiration

Assessment Boundary: Assessment should not include identification of the steps or specific processes involved in cellular respiration.

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this performance expectation, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
While the module was produced prior to the Next Generation Science Standards, it implicitly addresses the Performance Expectation, as it engages students in using 3D molecular models and interactive simulations to understand the chemical reactions and energy transfers involved in cellular respiration. The module goes into more detail than is required for the Performance Expectation, and students may require significant support from the teacher to make sense of the details provided. The molecular models highlight molecular structure and makeup of molecules involved. However, students would benefit most from this following a brief introduction to standard color coding in molecular models. The module does not explain this, i.e. red=oxygen, gray=carbon, etc. Reaction sequences are more detailed than called for in the Performance Expectation. The reaction sequences highlight energy transfers and molecular rearrangements, but students may need significant support in making sense of these concepts. The section on “What role do enzymes play in glycolysis?” connects to HS-LS1-1 (Construct an explanation based on evidence for how the structure of DNA determines the structure of proteins which carry out the essential functions of life through systems of specialized cells.), although there is no discussion of DNA coding for these enzymes.

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
The module explicitly engages students in using four forms of models: chemical reaction diagrams, 2D molecular representations, 3D interactive molecular models, and interactive simulations. While these models are evidence-based, the supporting evidence is not presented within the module. The module does ask students to draw on the models as evidence on which to base conclusions about the chemical rearrangements and energy transfers in the process of cellular respiration.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The module explicitly addresses the Disciplinary Core Idea. Without significant background knowledge, however, students could lose sight of the core concepts in the Disciplinary Core Idea as they wade through the detailed reaction steps presented in the module. Discussion among students and the teacher occurring before, during, and after completion of the module could help to maintain students’ focus on the Disciplinary Core Idea.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
The text, models, and assessment items in the module regularly draw students attention to the fact that energy is transferred repeatedly from one molecule to another rather than being created or destroyed.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: The module aligns well with the relevant NGSS Performance Expectation, although the module presents a more detailed discussion of the reactions than is called for in the Performance Expectation. For this reason, the module may be most appropriate for advanced or honors-level students. Other students may find themselves getting lost in the details at the expense of making sense of the main concepts. The module begins by introducing the guiding question: Have you ever wondered how we can get energy from so many different kinds of food? However, the module is primarily organized around content-focused questions that lack context. The module could be improved by launching it with a deeper, more relevant phenomenon that provides students an engaging context in which to develop their understanding of the concepts presented in the module.

  • Instructional Supports: The text assumes a good deal of background information related to chemical reactions, in general, and biochemical reaction, in particular. The guiding questions for each segment help to focus students’ attention on key concepts. The embedded, self-checking assessment items provide support to students by checking for understanding and providing guidance when incorrect answers are given. Embedded assessment items help to focus students on the energy transfers occurring. Teachers should provide additional support by providing an opening discussion, providing guidance and feedback during the module, and facilitating a class discussion on the key concepts following the module.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: The module includes both self-check and teacher-rated assessment items. The teacher cannot view student responses in real time. Also, the assessment report feature does not provide an effective means for the teacher to return feedback to the student. Teachers could overcome these limitations to some degree by circulating, monitoring, and giving feedback face-to-face as students work on the module in a computer lab or similar setting.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: The module is interactive and makes effective use of computer-based 3D molecular models and interactive simulations, but the module does not provide an individualized learning experience. Students can create a report of their work to submit to the teacher after completing the module.