Safe-D: Safety through Disruption

K-12 STEM Program: Exploring the Science of Retroreflectivity



According to the United States Department of Commerce, careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are growing faster than occupations in other areas. However, in-class academic concepts can seem abstract with little relevance to a student’s life. There is therefore a need for in-class curricula that links academic concepts with real-world STEM applications. Over the past 10 years, Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) researchers have developed many educational activities for elementary and middle school students (K–8) that provide an opportunity to gain hands-on experience and insight into what transportation engineering and other STEM careers have to offer. In 2011, a TTI researcher taught approximately 300 fifth graders about the scientific principles of reflection, refraction, and retroreflectivity through a brief history of sign sheeting, hands-on activities, and a laboratory exercise. While these activities successfully engaged the students, it is not possible for one researcher to visit the numerous K–12 classrooms in their area, much less on a state- or nation-wide level. Therefore, TTI researchers created a curriculum and associated materials that can be used by teachers and other professionals to connect real-world applications in transportation to academic concepts to enhance the STEM learning experience for students.

Project Highlights

  • Safe-D researchers have developed a hands-on classroom curriculum with support materials to help students use discovery techniques to explore the science of retroreflectivity and its applications to transportation. This curriculum focuses on how traffic signs and pavement markings use reflection and refraction to direct light from a vehicle’s headlights back to the driver, allowing drivers to see these traffic control devices at night.

Final Report

TTI-01-05 Final Research Report (PDF)

EWD & T2 Products

Curriculum and Associated Materials for middle school science teachers

Student Impact Statement(pdf): One student received funding under this project (Jayson Stibbe, a Master’s student in Civil Engineering from Texas A&M). This file contains a statement by Jayson Stibbe as to the impact this project had on education and workforce development.


Stephanie Hanover presented material of this project at the 2019 Conference for the Advancement of Science Teaching

Research Investigators (PI*)

Melisa Finley*
Sue Chrysler

Project Information

Start Date: 2017-04-01
End Date: 2022-06-22
Status: Complete
Grant Number: 69A3551747115
Total Funding: $109,465
Source Organization: Safe-D National UTC
Project Number: TTI-01-05

Safe-D Theme Areas

Big Data Analytics

Safe-D Application Areas

Operations and Design

More Information

UTC Project Information Form

Sponsor Organization

Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology
University Transportation Centers Program
Department of Transportation
Washington, DC 20590 United States

Performing Organization

Texas A&M University
Texas A&M Transportation Institute
3135 TAMU
College Station, Texas 77843-3135