Science of Curiosity

Set up two low-prep activities to make your forensic tire track eidence unit even better!

Two Tire Track Evidence Activities! Hands-On

These tire track evidence activities give students a chance to get hands-on experience with a fun forensic topic. Tire Track evidence is sometimes hard to produce for a classroom setting – cars are big, mud is muddy, rain washes tread patterns away. These two activities bring tracks and tread patterns to your forensics classroom in an easy – low mess way!

Activity 1: Paint Tire Tracks With Toy Cars

The goal is to give students an experience that will help them remember four types of Tire Track Impression evidence:

  • Identifying all four tires in a track pattern
  • How to measure the turning diameter
  • Measuring the track width
  • Measuring the wheel base
Set up two low-prep activities to make your forensic tire track eidence unit even better!
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Materials needed:

  • Four colors of paint 
  • Some way to dispense the paint to student pairs (a dab of each color on a paper plate works!)
  • At least one paint brush per pair
  • Scrap paper (at least four sheets per student pair)
  • One small toy car per pair
  • Paper towels or wipes
  • rulers

My students have had the most success working in pairs for this activity, but you can put them into larger groups or they can work individually if you have enough materials! The student sheet walks students through each step, but it is helpful for them to see an example before getting started. 

Student pairs will have four pieces of paper. They will label each paper as follows:

  1. Straight Driving 
  2. Taking a Turn
  3. Circle
  4. Three Point Turn

To save resources, student pairs get just one paint brush. They use a paper towel to wipe paint off the brush as needed.

On paper 1: Straight Driving

Students will paint the front wheels of their car GREEN and the back wheels of their car RED. They will drive the car in a straight line. These tracks will reinforce the idea that the rear wheels cover over the front wheels when driving straight. So if a set of tracks is found at a crime scene, the tread patterns should be compared to the rear wheels of a suspect’s vehicle. 

On paper 2: Taking a Turn

Students will reapply the same colors on front and back tires and drive the car across the paper as if it was taking a turn.  This print is a bit tricky because the wheels of a toy car do not actually turn, so they will have to manipulate the car a bit to make it look like an actual car. The goal is to see tracks for all four wheels. When a car turns, the front wheels turn first, causing the back wheels to fall out of alignment, revealing the tread pattern of all four tires. 

On paper 3: Circle

Students will reapply the same paint again. The goal of the circle is to give students a track to measure turning diameter. The car will have to be forced into the circle since the front tires do not turn on their own. 

In the past, I have asked any willing students to bring in remote controlled cars to make tracks with. RC cars turn just like real cars, showing their front tires separate from back tires when doing a turn. Use a large piece of poster paper to make the tracks. You can use just one car for a fun live demonstration to the whole group! Or consider making a class set of tracks (or a video of the demonstration!) that can be used every year for students to measure and analyze.

Hands On Tire Impression Evidence Activity

On paper 4: Three Point Turn

The goal of the three point turn is to notice the separate tracks made by all four tires. Each tire is painted  a different color. This track is great for measuring wheelbase and track width of the car. 

Click here to find the complete student instructions, question sheet and key for this activity, and Activity 2!

Activity 2: Parking Lot Tread Pattern Match!

This tire impression activity takes a little bit of prep time, but is a lot of fun! The goal is for students to match tire rubbings with actual tires in the school parking lot. You will need:

  • Scrap paper (one for as many rubbings as you are going to make)
  • Dark color crayon with paper removed 
  • A parking lot of cars with numbered parking spaces (add your own numbers with chalk!)
  • A clipboard – helps to hold the papers from blowing away while you are making your impression

Head outside to your school parking lot and choose a handful of cars to make a rubbing. Depending on your students, choose ties that are very similar or very different from each other. To make the rubbing, place the paper on the tire and use the long side of the crayon to rub over the paper, making an impression. Label each of your impressions with a number or letter.

Make a key as you go, writing down the parking spot number for each car and the impression number/letter that you made from it. Once you have around 5 or so impressions, choose a handful more cars to add to the ‘suspect’ list (but do not take impressions from).

NOTE – it is important that you know the cars you are rubbing before class will still be there in the same spots during class time! 

Make copies of your impressions, enough for each student group/pair. Give them a list of suspect cars (the ones you made rubbings from plus the few extra) and let them go search the parking lot for matches!  It may also be fun to take a rubbing from a car that you do NOT put on your suspect list. Will your students try to force a match? Or concede that the car is not on the list?

Do you have any fun tire track evidence activities that work in your classroom? Share in the comments!

Looking for some NO PREP tire track evidence activities? Check these out!

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