Website review by Paul Cancellieri, Common Sense Education | Updated December 2012

City of Materials

Gripping crime scenes teach materials science, but are heavy on text

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Subjects & Skills
English Language Arts, Science, Critical Thinking

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Pros: This captivating, virtual crime-solving experience draws students in over many sessions.

Cons: The text-heavy info boxes may be frustrating for younger or less capable readers.

Bottom Line: City of Materials is an engaging way for middle and high school kids to learn a new branch of science.

As a fun supplemental activity for classroom learning or after-school science clubs, City of Materials is sure to engage middle and high school kids through forensic investigations. Teachers in science and vocational education could use City of Materials as a student-paced independent lesson without much instruction or explanation.

The lack of a teacher dashboard may be discouraging, but the immersive plotline is a fantastic tool for grabbing kids' attention.

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Investigating anything from a dognapping to a pair of mysteriously broken glasses, kids are immersed in a crime scene from the moment they log in to City of Materials. They choose to work at the Austen Detective Agency or the Griffith CSI Lab, and they must find clues. Moving the mouse lets them look around, and clicking objects provides more information, but kids have to use their reasoning skills to find answers.

As the story moves along, kids can visit various locations around the City by clicking on the map. They can visit the Science Center or a museum with rotating exhibits, talk to locals, or do a little shopping. Outside the City are more ways to interact with the world of materials science, including Materials Radio and Colleges and Careers.

Throughout the game, a cell phone-like interface pops up to give kids help and access to the items they've picked up. Information boxes also frequently pop up, explaining, for example, chemical components and properties, but they're well-integrated into the story. Instructions are text-only and can be lengthy, which might cause frustration for younger kids or struggling readers.

City of Materials is an expansive and involved place, and kids learn about materials science by playing games, doing at-home experiments, and using interactive tools. They can create an account to save their progress or simply play as a guest.

The game might take multiple sessions to complete. Kids get definitions for more complicated vocabulary terms by simply clicking highlighted terms, which helps build their knowledge and doesn't slow the simulation. Quick quizzes are embedded in many of the informational sections, providing some feedback and ensuring kids gain mastery before moving on.

Overall Rating


The crime/mystery story line grabs kids' attention and keeps them progressing through levels to solve the puzzle.


Exploration, quizzes, and virtual experiences teach the strengths and weaknesses of a variety of materials. Kids must master levels to move on.


Help screens are wordy, which might frustrate younger readers. Players can't interact, but the multimedia aspects of the simulation will help many kids learn.

Common Sense reviewer
Paul Cancellieri Classroom teacher

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Featured review by
Crystal D. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Interactive crime solving app with science features.
I liked the problem solving aspect of the website. It makes the student use deductive reasoning when solving a case. The loading time was an issue, though it is not incredibly slow, it may hinder time in a short class period. After one case, students seemed to lose interest in solving the second and third.
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