Common Sense Review
Updated October 2013

Fraxinus

Genetic puzzler harnesses players' pattern-recognition skills to save trees
Common Sense Rating 3
Teacher Rating (1 Teacher Review) 2
  • Kids manipulate strands of DNA to match the top pattern as closely as possible.
  • If players earn a certain score, they can "claim" the pattern and add it to their collection.
  • A tutorial at the start of the game explains the controls, which are extremely simple.
  • A dashboard displays friends' high scores, patterns claimed and attempted, and other game info.
Pros
This game's genetics-based puzzles contribute to real-world scientific research.
Cons
Convoluted scoring system and one-dimensional gameplay might frustrate players.
Bottom Line
A niche puzzle game inspires kids to participate in real science.
Erin Bell
Common Sense Reviewer
Common Sense Rating 3
Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return? 3

Kids are motivated because their efforts could help scientists make a real-world breakthrough. Friendly competition among friends also helps keep kids engaged.

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

Puzzles are all variations on the same theme, meaning there isn't a clear sense of progress or advancement to be gained by completing them.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students? 3

A tutorial explains how to play and can be viewed again at any time. The game tracks how many levels have been attempted and completed.

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How Can Teachers Use It?

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. 

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What's It Like?

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.

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Is It Good For Learning?

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.

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