Common Sense Review
Updated June 2014


Easy to jump in -- and get confused -- with this web-based game maker
Common Sense Rating 2
Teacher Rating (1 Teacher Review) 4
  • Flowlab's homepage
  • Free accounts hold up to three game projects.
  • Kids can play this game in Flowlab.
  • Users can edit and save their own versions of other users' games.
  • Flowchart-inspired programming quickly becomes convoluted and cumbersome.
Students can tinker and tweak any game made with Flowlab to learn through deconstruction.
The flowchart inspired programming quickly feels constraining and impenetrable.
Bottom Line
Teachers who can't install software on their classroom computers may want to give Flowlab a try; otherwise far better game-making tools are available.
Mark Chen
Common Sense Reviewer
Common Sense Rating 2
Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return? 2

Flowlab has a novel flowchart approach to design, but it's easy for the creation space to get muddled and feel overwhelming and unwieldy. 

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 some stock art to use, but very little in the way of actual tutorials. Users can remix each other's games -- which encourages a community of sharing and learning -- but this needs support and Facebook comments are a mixed bag.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students? 2

Flowlab does have an online community, but right now it's almost impossible to find anything useful. Discussion boards lack organization and are inundated with clutter.

About our ratings and privacy evaluation.
How Can Teachers Use It?

Teachers could use Flowlab as a starting point for teaching programming and game design. This would have to be heavily supported by additional materials, which currently the teacher would need to supply. Flowlab makes it easy for students to create a simple platform game -- although probably not a very good one -- without a lot of effort and direction.

Read more Read less
What's It Like?

Flowlab is a game-making tool that’s targeted toward beginners, making it potentially perfect for upper-elementary or middle-school students, but the integration of Facebook as the discussion system (with all that that entails) means that the experience ends up fitting better with upper middle school students. Flowlab doesn't require -- or even allow -- users to type in script or code. Instead, behaviors for game objects are created with a flowchart style drag-and-drop interface. Users link statements, and the game engine interprets those structures in a linear fashion on the fly. The idea sounds cool, but for anything beyond the basics, the workspace ends up extremely convoluted and the flowchart system can sometimes make something normally trivial to code more difficult to accomplish.

It's helpful that it runs in a browser making it easy to set up, but the Facebook integration might mean it gets blocked by the school firewall. Since it's web-based, students with access at home can continue working on their projects. Another potential boon is that any game made with Flowlab can be remixed, encouraging the development of a community of learners. The problem is that there’s no good way to filter and sort through the games, most of which seem to be partially finished projects created by users who presumably just tried out the tool a few times.

Read more Read less
Is It Good For Learning?

Perhaps due to its beta status, Flowlab is hindered by a lack of built-in scaffolding (e.g., tutorials or guides) or even any documentation that students can follow. This is particularly frustrating given its overly obtuse programming metaphor.

Flowlab is yet another game-making tool in the growing market glut. Given its current problems, it's difficult to recommend except at a school that doesn't allow teachers to install software on their classroom computers. Flowlab is in beta, however, and it's possible that most of its current issues will go away. More work needs to be put into making it easier to get help when needed (maybe the design of an initial set of lessons?) and into developing its online community. Improving these would make Flowlab a site to keep an eye on. As it is, the programming metaphor may serve to confuse more than actually scaffold computational thinking.

Read more Read less

See how teachers are using Flowlab