MODESTO -- On Saturday, Savage Middle School students will try to win a First Lego League robotics competition. On Wednesday, they won the support of folks that one of their creations is designed to help: senior citizens.
The theme of this year's First Lego League Challenge competition is "Senior Solutions: Independent. Engaged. Connected."
"The kids look into a problem seniors may be having and look for solutions," said Savage math teacher Pamela Mayne, adviser to the robotics club. "We talked with health care providers, who said many seniors are shut in and not very mobile, so it's hard to get to the door to open it, close it and lock it."
The students decided to create a remote-control locking device. They wanted it to be easy to use and inexpensive: no retinal or fingerprint scans to operate it, no key code to remember, no need to replace the lock hardware, no $80 price.
They came up with a gadget that fits over a deadbolt latch and has a simple, two-button remote control that someone could use while sitting in a chair across the room or while approaching the home from outside.
The sixth- and eighth-graders of the robotics club visited Modesto's Senior Citizens Center on Wednesday to demonstrate their creation and get feedback on it.
"The seniors we spoke to gave some good suggestions, like having the buttons lit so you can see them in the dark," Mayne said. "They seemed excited and said they'd use such a project if it were available."
Before deciding on the locking device, the students brainstormed "many amazing ideas," Mayne said. For example, one club member's grandmother said it's always a struggle to open and close her sliding shower door, so the group considered a device that would slide the door open with the push of a button.
The teacher said she's impressed with her students' enthusiasm and dedication to the robotics club and to this Lego competition.
"The kids are really self-driven and for the past month have taken the time to come two hours a night, three nights a week," to prepare for this weekend's competition, which will be held at Savage. "They come to me the first day of school, asking, 'When is robotics club meeting?' "
Saturday, 12 teams will vie in the First Lego League Qualifier Tournament for the Northern California Region's Capital District. Local schools, as well as teams from as far away as Folsom and the Bay Area, will compete to move on to the regional championships in Sacramento.
"This is the first time the qualifier has been held here" in Modesto, Mayne said. "Last year was in Folsom, and we qualified for championships."
At the championships, Savage placed in a few categories of competition and took first place in one. For the school's outstanding sportsmanship, the judges gave it first in the category of gracious professionalism.
What happens Saturday remains to be seen, of course, but in one way, Savage has a "lock" on the competition.
Bee City Editor Deke Farrow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2327.