Review by Patricia Monticello Kievlan, Common Sense Education | Updated July 2013
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The Fluid Ether

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Engaging physics game has learning potential but requires context

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Grades
6-12 This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
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Pros: Instantly responsive, intuitive gameplay challenges students to test their assumptions about objects’ movement in fluids.

Cons: Instructive text can easily be skipped in favor of more play; the game’s endpoint is an unexpected letdown.

Bottom Line: An engaging exploration of fluid dynamics that would benefit from more context, embedded instruction, and vocabulary that's more accessible.

The Fluid Ether could be a great addition to a unit on fluid dynamics in a middle school or high school science class. Because the game is instantly responsive to users’ actions, it would work well with students taking turns while others look on and give feedback. Users can also create their own levels, and teachers could encourage students to build levels to demonstrate a certain concept or to perform a certain task.

Be aware that the game’s end “reward” may be a bit of a letdown: it’s the equation for drag. Teachers might instead create their own rewards, perhaps with a contest for students’ original level designs. Also, students don't always intuitively see the connections between written concepts and their experimental observations. Before students play, teachers should preview the key terms and concepts for them so they can further solidify these connections.

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The Fluid Ether is a physics game where students use jets to move objects through fluid in an animated aquarium. Players move through levels that focus on concepts like density, size, and drag, as they pertain to fluid dynamics. By completing tasks in each level -- like gathering coins or breaking blocks -- players move on to “challenge” levels that test their mastery of each concept.

Navigation in the app is intuitive, and the design is elegant; touch the stars at right to learn about the tasks required for this level. As players complete more tasks, they gain access to new levels, as well as new “bonus info” offering further insights on fluid dynamics. Students can also create their own levels using any of the pre-loaded elements and using any tasks from an extensive pre-set list. These levels can be saved to the iPad or published for other players to try. The game includes several opportunities to link back to the developer’s website, which has even more activities on the same subject.

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As a sandbox-style exploration of fluid dynamics, The Fluid Ether succeeds in a number of ways. The Drag Challenge level exemplifies its best features: Students aim five jets to guide a ball through a maze. After an unsuccessful try, when students hit the Reset button, the jets stay in place, allowing students to reassess their strategy and tweak the jets accordingly. Students can make deliberate, clear progress toward goals, and the game is rewarding and engrossing as a result.

Unfortunately, the physics concepts aren't integrated into the game as seamlessly as they could be. For example, the term drag isn't defined until all of the Drag levels are complete. Often, the only text students see appears when the game is paused; it’s possible to play without ever encountering these helpful instructions. The information pages are engaging and informative, but there’s no guarantee that all students will see them, let alone reflect on their implications. While gameplay seems appropriate for elementary and middle school students, some vocabulary is too sophisticated. And while a high school physics class might be familiar with higher-level concepts, middle schoolers might be mystified by a statement like “F does NOT equal ma.”

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Overall Rating
3

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?
4

Every level is visually appealing, and the objectives are instantly clear. The gameplay is responsive enough to encourage persistence. It's easy to track progress through each task, level, and challenge.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?
3

There's great learning potential here, but it could be better integrated into the game. It's possible to play through all the levels and not pause to read the explanations of why these objects move as they do.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?
4

The in-level questions have the potential to provoke great conversations about how and why objects move in certain ways. The accompanying website offers further exploration and more activities for teachers and students.


Common Sense Reviewer
Patricia Monticello Kievlan Foundation/nonprofit member

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