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App review by Galen McQuillen, Common Sense Education | Updated December 2015

Phoenix Protocol

Explore digital logic, sci-fi circuits with appealing puzzler

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Grades
6–12
Subjects & Skills
Math, Science, Critical Thinking
Great for

Pros: Boolean logic becomes approachable and mesmerizing; multiple solutions encourage design thinking and engineering-style problem solving.

Cons: Finicky controls and a too-loose connection to computer-science goals may frustrate users.

Bottom Line: A super fun way to introduce fundamental electrical-engineering and computer-science concepts, and a great problem-solving game all on its own.

In a unit on the fundamentals of computer science, electrical engineering, discrete math, or symbolic logic, Phoenix Protocol would fit right in as a discovery-flavored advance organizer or as some extra at-home practice. If used for these specific learning goals, teachers should work to explicitly make the connections between the game's abstract circles and squares and the very concrete one/zero, true/false world or to engage students in discussion and debate to make these connections themselves.

The game could also make for great general problem-solving and design-thinking practice in almost any class or as supplemental practice for learners who struggle with binary numbers as they're traditionally taught.

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Editor's Note: Phoenix Protocol is no longer available.

In Phoenix Protocol, players must repair a ship marooned in deep space by making connections on a grid of flowing circles and squares using binary logic gates to transform input patterns into multiple outputs. The game introduces the concepts of links, splits, NOT gates, AND gates, and OR gates and simplifies binary numbers to brightly colored circles and squares. Solving each level of eight puzzles repairs part of the ship and unlocks more complex tasks, all on the same five-by-five grid.

The interface is all drag-and-drop in a crisply designed, pulsing, flashing, science-fiction wonderland with a peppy techno-music soundtrack. A kooky, irreverent robot assistant (quite reminiscent of Portal's iconic GLaDOS) adds hilarious encouragement and helpful hints and tutorials along the way.

Phoenix protocol uses a trial-and-error discovery learning approach that works extremely well for teaching otherwise tricky logical concepts. The possibility of multiple solutions for each puzzle encourages design thinking and engineering habits of mind, while gradual introduction of increasingly complex concepts and good progression through more difficult levels provides great scaffolding for the properties of boolean functions.

There aren't any ones or zeros, nor any mention of circuits, electronics, or discrete math -- and that's both this game's biggest strength and biggest weakness. By reinterpreting the content as shape puzzles, it makes the content extremely accessible, but it's at the cost of outside transfer. Making the jump to electrical engineering and computer science will be tricky. Teacher context would add a lot: Some gradual introduction to more common representations would make that transition a lot smoother.

Engagement

Addictive logic puzzle gameplay makes boolean logic and circuit design approachable and extremely fun; fresh graphics, a flashy sci-fi theme, and a hilarious Portal-inspired robot assistant will keep kids coming back for more.

Pedagogy

Learners pick up OR, AND, and NOT gates intuitively through discovery with trial-and-error gameplay, but there's no explicit connection to digital logic; without outside help, learners may not see what, exactly, they're learning about.

Support

Since this is intended as part of a STEM curriculum package, support will mostly come through classroom intervention, but in-game tutorials and outside student/teacher forums are available to provide some out-of-class help.

Common Sense reviewer
Galen McQuillen Researcher

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