Charter students offer food handling solution
Everyone’s heard the old adage, “If you can build a better mouse trap, the world will beat a path to your door”…or words to that effect. Students at Tehachapi’s Valley Oaks Charter School have not come up with that mouse trap, but maybe something even more useful - a solution to food handling issues. Their concept has potential and is so original that the Valley Oaks students earned first place Innovative Solution Design honors at the recent First Lego League competition held on Dec. 17 at Chatsworth, CA. The eight students known as the Tehachapi Turbines are in grades 4-8 and won out over competitors from 47 other California teams.
Turbines team members were Micah Sayler, Isaac Sayler, David Salyers, Andrew Nitsch, Alicia Camerina, Colin Booker, Rickie Peregrina and Kent Schornick.
The competition involved a lot of different categories in which the team competed including designing and programming a Lego robot to perform a timed mission over an obstacle course. Every category revolved around the event’s annual theme, “Food Factor – Food Handling Safety.”
And where the Turbines excelled was in the “Best Innovative Solution to Food Handling” category. What did they come up with? With the help of adult coaches Reagan Woolf and Al Whatmough, they developed an apron with sanitary wipes, according to resource teacher/advisor Shelley Prestage. Sounds kind of simple on the surface, but she said it took a lot of research, experimentation, and failure before achieving the successful design.
“They designed four prototypes,” Prestage said. “The first had anti-bacterial sponges glued on the outside of the apron. That was impractical. Then, they designed an apron with packets of bacterial wipes Velcroed to pockets on the outside. The packets fell off too easily. Their third concept involved having the packets inside apron pockets, but there was too much chance for contamination. Their winning design involved putting the wipes inside the pockets and cutting a slit in the pockets so the wipes could stick out and be easily grabbed.”
The Turbines met twice a week for two hours since the beginning of the school year. During that time, Prestage said they embraced teamwork and learning through the scientific process, based on California Department of Education curriculum standards. She said they spent a lot of time researching food handling and safety on the Internet and devoted an equal amount on consulting with professionals. They researched material costs, the most economical means of production, and made a brochure showing the material and production costs involved to produce each unit.
Following the Turbines presentation, the judges commented, “These kids did a lot of research, and we are impressed by that, the prototype, and that they are ready to go to production.” Speaking of production, the team is working on that. Instead of cutting slits in pockets, they are exploring the cost and feasibility of sewing grommets into the aprons from which the wipes could be grabbed.
When the team’s name was announced as the winner, Prestage said, “They were very surprised and started gleefully shouting at each other and slapping ‘high fives.’ It was a joyous occasion. There was a lot of pride in winning. This is an exceptional, very professional group.”