Curricular Materials

Make Way for Trains! Holding Back Earth Materials


A Community-Connected Elementary Geotechnical Engineering Unit

In the “Make Way for Trains” unit (MWT), students explore key concepts of geotechnical engineering in the context of a train track expansion for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA): as railway corridors are widened, the sloping earth material surrounding the tracks must simultaneously support existing structures and not fall onto the tracks. Developed specifically for the Boston, Massachusetts, context, the unit begins with a look at how MBTA workers employ science and engineering for the geotechnical support for the network of tracks that make up “the T.” Over 8 class sessions, fourth-grade students integrate their understanding of the engineering design process and earth science concepts, like how piles of earth materials behave with and without stabilization technologies, to generate multiple possible solutions to retain and support earth materials.

Note​: This unit was developed specifically for the Boston-area context and makes many references to its public transportation system. If you are in another location consider looking into your local transportation system. More than likely they will have a similar track or road expansion project from which you can draw. Any project where earth materials must be moved and supported can work.

Curricular Materials

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Project Curricula Details

File Attachment(s)
Target Setting(s)
Elementary school (K-5)
Target Participant(s)
Youth / students
Girls (or women)
American Indian/Alaska Native participants
Black/African American participants
Hispanic/Latino participants
Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander participants
Students eligible for free lunch or reduced-price lunch
Environmental sciences
Physics and astronomy