Assuming your school doesn't prohibit the use of Facebook, Fraxinus would be fun to use as a supplement to a science unit about genetics or environmental conservation -- something kids can spend free time on after they've completed in-class assignments. It's an opportunity for kids to practice pattern-recognition skills while building awareness of how serious a threat fungi and other blights can be to plants and trees in an ecosystem. Fraxinus helps kids make real-world connections to science, since the puzzles they solve use actual DNA strands that could lead to a real-world breakthrough in the fight against ash dieback disease.Continue reading Show less
Editor's Note: Fraxinus is no longer available.
Fraxinus is a self-described "genetic puzzle game" that enlists kids' help to participate in the real-world conservation efforts to save the European ash tree (Latin name Fraxinus excelsior) from dieback, a deadly disease caused by the Chalara fungus. The game, which is played on Facebook, uses real genetic code from the ash trees and the fungus, which are depicted as horizontal strands of colored leaves. Kids rearrange the DNA sequences to match the patterns as closely as possible by removing colors and sliding strands to the left or right. If the target score is reached, players can "claim" that sequence for their collection.
Fraxinus is a good introduction to biology and genetics, and it gives kids an accurate, hands-on look at the kind of work that scientists in this field perform: examining the patterns in DNA strands for clues that can lead to important discoveries. The game empowers kids because their playing Fraxinus could actually lead to a real-life scientific breakthrough. There is an element of competitiveness to the game in the form of challenging friends to beat each others' high scores, which adds an extra layer of motivation to keep playing. That said, there's no clear difficulty arc, and the patterns are introduced randomly with no sense of overall progress from simple to more challenging. The points system isn't clearly explained, and the game requires lots of trial and error to figure out which patterns yield the best possible score. Fraxinus is also single-minded in its focus and misses the opportunity to teach kids about the broader world of genetics outside of the ash tree problem.