"Roads, Rails and Race Cars" After-School Program
Number of Students Impacted Since 2010: 787
About the Program
Research shows that engaging students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) learning outside the regular classroom has a profound impact on shaping students’ attitudes toward STEM subjects and their future career goals. With funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation and collaborations with other Nebraska partners, the Mid-America Transportation Center (MATC) developed an innovative transportation engineering after-school club. The program was titled “Roads, Rails and Race Cars” (RRRC) and piloted at a middle school in Lincoln, Neb. Led initially by one middle school science teacher and two MATC graduate student mentors, in conjunction with the Community Learning Centers programs in Lincoln, students learned about engineering and transportation through hands-on lessons and activities that encourage student inquiry. At the end of each quarter, students prepared presentations and activities to demonstrate the most memorable concepts to parents, school administrators and community members at a culminating celebration.
With the success of the pilot year, program organizers have since expanded RRRC to include three elementary schools, four middle schools and two high schools in Lincoln, Neb. The expansion moved beyond the borders of Lincoln to include a middle school in Omaha, Neb.; Boone, Iowa; and Madison, Wisc. Currently, there are 16 teachers, 29 undergraduate and graduate engineering mentors, 1 program coordinator, 1 program assistant, and 2 media relations specialists participating in after-school clubs at 12 schools in Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin. Summertime has also been a great time to engage students. Through summer-school clubs and MATC’s Summer Engineering Excellence Institute program, students have been exposed to a vast array of transportation engineering information, concepts and careers. In 2012, 95 students participated in summer-school clubs and more than 30 students attended the Summer Institute.
Below are a few examples of the exciting curriculum employed by mentors to enhance students’ learning experience:
- Transportation and Communication:
Students map out a grid of traffic signals in their classroom and experiment to find how to route traffic movement without causing crashes or speeding.
- Building Bridges:
Students compete to see who can build the tallest or longest bridge with the most economical use of materials.
- Speed Challenge:
Students complete various activities to measure and calculate speeds and learn how engineers use LIDAR guns to measure vehicle speeds for traffic studies.
- Newton's Laws and Vehicle Crashes:
Students learn about physics by crashing "cars" they have constructed.
- Float the Boat:
Students learn how boats carry cargo by designing an aluminum foil watercraft and compete to see which boat can hold the most weights before sinking.