Texas Tech University
TTU HomeT-STEM Center Professional Development Workshops for Teachers

Transportation Engineering and Project Based Learning (PBL)

Explore the math and physics of our transportation system for use as real-world project based and inquiry learning in your classroom. Learn the science that goes into creating our transportation infrastructure from University experts. Integrate hands-on projects into lessons for your classroom and develop rubrics to assess.

Highways: Design, Safety & the Future

Highway Design

Driving along highways is an integral part of our lives. When we get into that vehicle, we want to get to our destination as quickly as possible. A driver makes many important decisions such as when to slow down and when to overtake another vehicle. To aid and facilitate better decision-making by drivers, highway engineers work behind the scenes to make the travel experience as pleasant, comfortable, reliable and - most importantly - as safe as possible. Some of the important decisions made by an engineer include designing the highway geometry, posting speed limits and deciding what guide and warning signs to place and where. This workshop will focus on the geometric design of roadways, traffic safety and the future of surface transportation.

Mechanically Stabilized Earth Walls

Stabilizing Wall

How can we meet the ever-increasing demand for greater capacity in our transportation systems and at the same time achieve improved transportation efficiency when the available right-of-way is limited? Among the transportation infrastructure that help us achieve this challenge is an earth retaining system known as Mechanically Stabilized Earth (or simply MSE) walls. But how are these walls designed and built? How do engineers make sure that they will last the intended design life of 75-100 years? Interestingly, the answers are found in simple concepts that students learn in high school level physics and chemistry classes.

First of all, MSE walls are built by stacking precast concrete wall panels, attaching steel straps to these panels and then burying the straps in sandy backfill behind the wall. Thus, stability of the wall system relies on frictional resistance that develops between steel straps and sandy backfill soil. When designing the wall, the engineer must select the appropriate length of strap and suitable spacing between straps so that there is sufficient frictional resistance to withstand the lateral pressure from soil. This simple technique has been used to build MSE walls as tall as 130 feet.

Second, how do we make sure that these walls last up to 100 years? The service life of these wall systems depends on rate of corrosion of steel straps used. This means the design engineer must provide adequate corrosion protection for the steel, select a suitable type of soil backfill and minimize intrusion of de-icings salts into the system.

Construction Materials

Construction Materials

When you travel along our highways, have you ever wondered where the massive quantities of material we use to build our roads come from, how engineers select one material over another or what happens to them when the road needs to be re-built? Because of the huge sums of money needed to build our roads, bridges and airports, they are designed to last several decades. At a time when a new generation of such facilities are needed, engineers are coming up with new materials and new ways to build them. They consider strength and durability of materials, as well as the impact they will have on the environment around us. This workshop will focus on material selection by identifying real-life projects for math, physics, chemistry, technology and ecology.


What You Take Home

  • A deeper understanding of how transportation infrastructure is designed and built
  • A sneak-peek at the future of transportation infrastructure landscape
  • Instructional content on:
    • Highway geometric design, driver behavior, traffic safety and future of surface transportation
    • Basic MSE wall design based on frictional resistance mobilized between steel soil reinforcement and soil backfill
    • Estimation of service life of wall based on rate of corrosion of steel reinforcement
    • Types of materials, their properties and impacts
  • Project based learning exercises related to:
    • Sight distance, space between successive vehicles, horizontal and vertical curves, traffic safety and the future of surface transportation
    • Factors governing frictional resistance between steel soil reinforcement and soil backfill
    • Impact of galvanization and intrusion of de-icing salts on rate of corrosion of steel
    • Materials in transportation infrastructure for math, physics, chemistry, technology and ecology
  • Hands-on projects that can be differentiated for your classroom
  • 1.2 Continuing Education Units (CEUs) from Texas Tech University ($30 if requested)
  • 12 hours Texas State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) Continuing Professional Education (CPE) credit
  • 6 hours of content qualify as Gifted and Talented

About the Instructor

Greg Burham

Greg Burnham has been integrating engineering projects into science classes in rural and urban schools in the State of Texas for thirteen years. His current day job includes: teaching Engineering and robotics and sponsoring BEST Robotics and FRC Team 5417 at Allen High School.

Greg spends his summer months working for Texas Tech University's (TTU) T-STEM Center, housed in the Edward E. Whitacre Jr. College of Engineering, and TTU IDEAL conducting science and engineering camps and teacher training including Run on the Wind, a collaboration between IDEAL and the Wind Science Engineering group from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, TTU.

He is published and presents Nationally K-12 Robotics as recruitment for STEM and secondary and higher education relationships. Greg graduated from Texas Tech University with a Bachelor's of Science in Multi-Disciplinary Science and a minor in Education in 2001.


About the Texas Tech University Southern Plains Transportation
Center Researchers

Sanjaya Senadheera

Sanjaya Senadheera, Ph.D.
Associate Professor and Interim Director, TechMRT
Edward E. Whitacre Jr. College of Engineering
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Priyantha W. Jayawickrama

Priyantha W. Jayawickrama, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Edward E. Whitacre Jr. College of Engineering
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Hongchao Liu

Hongchao Liu, Ph.D., P.E.
Edward E. Whitacre Jr. College of Engineering
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering



  • Fee: No charge for this workshop,
    but registration is required to attend
  • Limited to 20 participants
  • Meals and lodging on your own
    Hotels with Texas Tech Rates
  • Stipend: $200 per day
    (must attend both days to be eligible for full stipend)
  • July 27-28, 2015
  • 9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. Daily Instruction
  • Texas Tech University - Lubbock, TX
  • Classroom:
    Education Building, Room 001
  • Focus on Grade Levels: 6-12
Additional Workshops