Review by Debbie Gorrell, Common Sense Education | Updated February 2014
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Sector 33

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Math concepts come alive in this realistic air traffic control game

Subjects & skills
  • Math

  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
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Teachers say (1 Review)

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Pros: Problems connect math to real-world situations, and great support and extensions boost learning potential.

Cons: Each problem starts with the same general radar screen and flight area; more variety would enhance the experience.

Bottom Line: Sector 33 is a fun and unique way to have kids use problem-solving skills and apply math to real-world scenarios.

Sector 33 would make a nice supplement to a math lesson about ratios and proportions. After kids learn about the relationship between distance, rate, and time, have students work in pairs to solve one of the beginner problems. Make sure they review the tutorial first, and challenge groups to earn the highest score. Continue assigning problems and discussing strategies. You can supplement the activities using NASA's Smart Skies website and the "LineUp With Math" lessons, which are designed to support Sector 33 learning goals.

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Sector 33 is an air traffic control game that aims to connect math and problem solving to the real world. The game includes four levels of learning with a total of 35 problems, a tutorial, and a handful of useful tips. Tap the Play button, and kids go directly to a problem with a simulated radar screen, which shows the starting positions of the airplanes, their flight paths, and their flight times. The goal is to get all of the planes to merge into a single lane and land within two miles of each other. Kids have to analyze the situation to decide whether they should adjust the planes' flight paths or speeds. Points are awarded for each successful landing. Progress tracking is available from the Levels screen. Kids can access a tutorial and solution hints, as well as links to videos about Sector 33 and air traffic control in the United States and across the world.

Kids must use their math skills and apply the relationship between distance, rate, and time to solve real-world problems. They have to analyze the flight paths of two or more planes and determine how to get the planes to merge into a single path and land within a safe distance from each other. They key is to figure out whether to change a plane's flight path (distance) or rate, and by how much. This is where math skills come into play, and if kids can use the formula distance = rate x time appropriately, they should be able to analyze each problem and find a solution. Additional factors like storms along flight paths add to the challenge and push kids to use their critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Kids get rewarded by earning points and unlocking levels, and levels progress from Trainee to Master. Overall, Sector 33 is a fun way to get kids interested in using math to solve real-world problems and may truly inspire kids who have an interest in an aeronautics-related career.

Overall Rating

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

The realistic radar screen and pilot responses will draw kids in, and the task of safely landing planes will keep their interest. Every problem involves the same general flight area, so a bit more variety would be nice.

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

Problems increase in difficulty, general feedback is immediate, and kids can try an unlimited number of times to solve each problem. Kids build problem-solving skills they can apply to other situations.

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

A tutorial and an introductory video help kids get started. The NASA website has plenty of additional resources including videos, help guides, and supporting lesson plans.

Teacher Reviews

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Featured review by
Gloria E. , Other
Georgian Court University
Lakewood, NJ
Real-world math application that promotes problem-solving, critical thinking, and collaboration amongst students
I like the fact that Sector 33 is high on the scale of critical thinking and problem-solving, and would force students into Bloom's higher levels of thinking. Additionally, several multiple intelligences (interpersonal, intrapersonal, visual-spatial, mathematical logical, verbal-linguistic, and bodily-kinesthetic) tap the interest levels of students. Real-world application of math is dynamic within the classroom. Because this application would be used primarily with middle school students and probably 5th grade gifted and talented students, I would want to model the integration of this App with my pre-service teachers so that they could appropriately introduce it following math instruction. I did a little research and located the NASA Smart Skies: Line Up With Math activity that provides a classroom lesson using Sector 33. It provides a solid idea of how this App could be used and gave me several ideas as to how I might modify the lesson. I believe the middle school students would consider the App to be a game whereas as the teacher, I would consider it an engaging activity that would allow me to gauge the degree to which learning had occurred. The App provides options for following up in-class instruction with a computer-based activity which is a plus as students, in general, like technology. Would be interested in seeing how NASA might improve this App to give a 3-D visual of the simulation.
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