From the Classroom to the Rail: The FRA’s Plan to Transform K-12 Rail Education with Sensors and Inspire STEM Success

From the Classroom to the Rail: The FRA’s Plan to Transform K-12 Rail Education with Sensors and Inspire STEM Success

From the Classroom to the Rail: The FRA’s Plan to Transform K-12 Rail Education with Sensors and Inspire STEM Success

The Federal Railroad Administration or FRA has a plan to transform K-12 education by inspiring interest in STEM using sensors. Engaging K-12 students in the study of railroads using technology such as low-cost sensors can bring excitement and hands-on learning to the classroom. Sensors can be used to track the movement of trains and provide real-time data on various aspects such as speed change and movement of the railroad car. This technology can be easily integrated into educational programs and help students understand the science behind railroads, including physics, engineering, and data analysis. One of the primary benefits of using low-cost sensors in K-12 rail education is that it allows students to visualize the concepts they are learning. By seeing the data generated by the sensors, students can better understand how trains move, why they travel at certain speeds, and how various factors can impact their journey. This data can also be used to spark discussions about the efficiency of rail transportation and how it compares to other modes of transportation.

In addition to providing students with hands-on learning experiences, low-cost sensors can also be used to teach important Science, Technology, has awarded a new project led by the University of New Mexico in collaborating with Florida State University and Stanford University. The three universities organize different activities and workshop for K-12 students to engage them in railroad by using new technologies. Successful activities with students in summer 2022 include: sensor on trains, the flying train workshop, dancing on the bridge with sensors.

On January 20th 2023, UNM organized a workshop at Albuquerque to share the results of year 1 with all three Universities and the project manager from the FRA Monique Stewart. They invited industries partner (Sandia National Laboratory, BNSF railway, Rail Runner, Quiroga Pfeiffer Engineering Corporation, etc.) to participate in one of the sensor workshops and also provide their inputs to the program to Monique Stewart and the other PIs. With the help of the third grade’ teachers of Comanche School, the three Universities, the industry partners, the FRA, and a troop of UNM students taught 54 elementary students how to build the low-cost sensor (LEWIS) and then took a train to do an experiment and measure the vibration of the train. The highlight of the sensor class at Comanche was that the third graders built the 18 sensors in less than 15 minutes.

PIs Professor Moreu, Professor Noh and Professor Jung led the presentations at UNM and the goals for research and education with the railroads and diversity. Professor Losada provided her own insights as transportation faculty. Project manager from Sandia National Lab John Pott introduced the students the laboratory, and Lee Hostler, retired from the BNSF, motivated the future railroaders to study to build sensors for the train ride. Program manager Monique Stewart provided the support from Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg towards a diverse and supportive work environment that will transform the traditional definition of railroad workers.

The future of sensors and railroads is bright and holds endless possibilities. Advancements in technology will lead to more efficient and safer rail transportation, with sensors playing a crucial role in monitoring and improving the system. So, we would like to be part of this journey, help transform K-12 education, and contribute to the future of younger generation!

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This project is supported by the New Mexico Consortium.