In 2016, TDOT launched the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) TRAC (Transportation and Civil Engineering) Program. TRAC is a hands-on education program designed for use in science, technology, engineering, and math classes. It is provided free of charge for middle and high schools in the state of Tennessee. The program is aligned with Common Core and Tennessee State Standards. TDOT TRAC currently has three modules which engage students in solving real-world problems such as designing and building a bridge, building a magnetic levitation car, and analyzing, planning and designing a roadway facility. The three modules are Bridge Builder, Magnetic Levitation, and Roadway Design and Construction. Each module is explained in detail below. TDOT provides training to participating teachers and TDOT engineer volunteers. These volunteers speak to students about their careers in transportation and teach a module and/or hands-on activity. By bringing transportation professionals into the classroom, the TRAC Program connects students to the work world and inspires them to consider careers in transportation and civil engineering.
- Bridge Builder Module
With the Bridge Builder Module, students will practice the math and science concepts a structural engineer uses to create a bridge. These concepts are presented individually through five activities, culminating in the construction of the students’ own creations, as they apply math and physics skills. This interactive module engages students from the first activity to the last with computer-based learning, demonstrations, computer-based design, and model construction. Activities in this module include:
Activity 1: Structural Concepts
An interactive computer-based introduction to the basic concepts employed by a structural engineer when designing and building bridges. Students will specifically learn about dead load (the weight of the structure itself), live load (the weight of anything on the bridge, including cars, people and snow) and other loads (including earthquake forces and stresses due to temperature fluctuations). This activity will address the types of forces that bridge elements must withstand (tension, compression, and bending) and ways different materials are suited to withstand each type of force.
Activity 2: Beam Me Up
Involves in-class demonstrations that illustrate some of the key structural concepts that are essential to understanding how basic bridges behave. Students can see how the efficiency of a simple structure is affected by its basic geometry.
Activity 3: Computer-Based Bridge Building
This activity provides the students an introduction to computer-based design. The ModelSmart 3D software allows them to design computational bridge models that can be used to predict overall structure strength and weight. After designing the bridge, a computational analysis can be performed that shows the students how their models deformed and failed under the given loading state.
Activities 4 and 5: Basic Box Bridge Structure and Improved Box Bridge
These activities allow the students to take part in hands-on activities that guide them through the process of building their own bridges, which they will test in class as part of a design competition. The judging of each student-built structure will be based upon the overall weight of the structure and its performance, which will be measured by applying incremental loads to the structure until it falls.
- Magnetic Levitation Module
The Magnetic Levitation (MagLev) Module contains technology that is relevant to today’s middle and high school science classes. In this module, students put magnetic levitation cars through the paces while learning Newton’s First and Second Laws of Motion with six interactive activities. Civil Engineers rely on these two concepts when designing new roadways and developing ways to keep our roads safe.
Pre-Lab Activity: Timing Newton’s Apple
This activity allows students to identify the human factors that can lead to measurement errors, using stop watches.
Pre-Lab Activity: Polarity
This activity allows students to learn how magnets behave and the forces that cause the magnets to attract or repel other objects.
Pre-Lab Activity: Floating Magnet
This activity allows students to learn the different properties of magnets: the natural north and south seeking poles.
Activity 1A & 1B: Running and Graphing the Gauntlet
In these activities, differentiated for high school and middle school students, Newton’s first law of motion is demonstrated. Students use the MagLev track to measure the time it takes the car to pass designated points along the path, and calculate its velocity.
Activity 2A & 2B: Caution: 6% Grade Ahead!
In these activities, differentiated for high school and middle school students, Newton’s second law of motion is demonstrated. Students incline a MagLev track as they collect data on acceleration rates between intervals. The second law of motion can be verified via the interpretation of graphs.
Activity 3: Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee
In this activity, students are introduced to the design process as they built the best MagLev car. Students then test their car on the MagLev track.
- Design and Construction Module
In the Roadway Design and Construction module, students will combine mathematics, social studies, and technology. Throughout each of the five activities, students learn data visualization, law of sines, societal impact of transportation systems and computer algorithms. Using roadway design as the vehicle for learning, students apply important classroom theory to transportation issues that impact their own lives every day.
Activity 1: How Much Traffic Can a Road Handle?
This activity illustrates how a roadway has a finite capacity: a maximum number of cars that can move through a lane within an hour.
Activity 2: Not In My Backyard!
In this activity, students will participate in a hands-on drawing exercise that asks them to determine how to align a road that will go from point A to B, given there is no optimal location for the road: students consider design consequences, costs and environmental impacts
Activity 3: How Much Does Land Cost?
Students use spreadsheets and computer-based modeling to estimate real estate prices for the land that must be taken for the roadway.
Activity 4: Keep Me On the Road!
Using High Roads Computer Aided Design (CAD) Software, students create a road on the computer, given the challenge of incorporating horizontal and vertical curvature at different speeds.
Activity 5: Take the Short Way Home
Students use Visual Basic for Applications Software to design a program to determine the fastest route between two points. Then, poor and good signal progression compare with the Syncho/SimTraffic simulation package. This activity introduces the Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) concepts of sensors, traffic management systems, and software engineering.
Supplemental Materials for Each Module:
- Styrofoam Blocks
- Magnetic Tape
Design and Construction:
- Road Curves
- Balsa Wood
- Wood Glue
- Graph Paper
- Wax Paper
- Safety Cutters
Interested in learning more about the TDOT TRAC Program? If so, contact Paige Harris at 615-532-5514 or at Paige.Harris@tn.gov.