October 1, 2012 | Atlanta, GA
Just as Brain Quest can be highly engaging for students learning science, and Scrabble can be a fun way to sharpen teenagers’ vocabulary skills, Terminus — a game created by three Tech graduate students — can teach high schoolers all about transportation planning.
As part of their summer work with the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC), Amy Ingles and Denise Smith, civil engineering students, and Johann Weber, a public policy student, were asked to teach high school students participating in Clark Atlanta University’s Summer Transportation Institute how transportation planning works in metro Atlanta.
With Terminus, players are paired off and given a fictitious district within a larger metro area, economic and demographic background on the district, a budget and a stack of cards representing options for transportation infrastructure projects for their district. Options include projects such as road repairs, highway interchanges, light rail lines, buses or multiuse paths.
“Personalities make a big difference, and the kids brought their perceptions of infrastructure with them when they played,” said Weber. He said that one student was dismayed to learn that projects he favored would not be the ones most beneficial for his community. The cost of a project varies depending on the region, as well as how many points it would earn the district in each of three categories: economic, environment and equity.
“People approach it in different ways, but it was really fun and well-received,” Weber said.
The ARC has participated in the Clark Atlanta University program for a number of years, but, this year, wanted to revamp how it presented the topic of transportation planning to students.
“Last year, our senior folks felt they wanted something a little more fun and interactive than in the past,” said Byron Rushing, an ARC bicycle and pedestrian planner who worked with the Tech interns on the project. The idea of Terminus was largely based on the format of the regional roundtable for the TSPLOST vote that took place in July. The referendum may have died at the polls this summer, but its lessons live on in Terminus.
“We liked the idea because it was already kind of a competitive game in real life to come up with the funding list, so we tried to boil that down to be super simple for high schoolers,” Rushing said. Though students didn’t necessarily have to understand all the nuances of every project to play, the game creators did want a realistic outcome. “We tried to put it in enough of a framework that it was logical how the projects worked out. Having [Johann] certainly helped with that, since he could conceive all the different ways projects could work for each district.”
Debriefing with the students after the game, both Rushing and his colleague Nathan Soldat, an ARC senior transit planner, were pleasantly surprised.
“Some of the questions got more technical and were based off the cards from the game; they were not afraid to ask if they didn’t know what a term was,” Soldat said.
The ARC plans to continue using Terminus with high school students through its Mock Atlanta Regional Commission (MARC) program, which is similar to a Model United Nations. “The kids who come are already interested in that field of study, so that group may be even more engaged and informed,” Soldat said.
Terminus is now copyrighted to the ARC, and Weber also submitted it for presentation at the Transportation Research Board’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C. He has also presented the idea to Georgia Tech faculty who may be able to incorporate it into their curriculum.
“We really just want to expose more people to transportation planning,” Weber said.