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, handson 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.