FAULKNER COUNTY STUDENTS WIN WITH HOVER CHAIR DESIGN

Three boys clutched their certificates, stood behind their innovative "hover chair" prototype and smiled for flashing cameras and a crowd of parents Wednesday morning. They were being recognized for winning a major prize.

"There were thousands of kids competing," said Jonathan Bickers, 9. "That’s why (winning’s) surprising. Oh well, we got lucky."

The three-boy team placed first in the Toshiba-National Science Teachers Association ExploraVision program for the kindergarten through third grade selection in Region 5, which includes Arkansas. The competition is the "world’s largest K-12 science and technology competition" that challenges students to work in teams and design new technologies that could exist 20 years from now, according to a news release.

Students form teams of two to four children and research scientific principles and technologies as the basis for designing something new.

The home-schooled Faulkner County students beat out thousands of other children with their idea of a chair that can hover over obstacles like stumps and curbs and help disabled people, officials and students said during an award ceremony at Fairfield Inn & Suites. Jonathan said he knew people who had used wheelchairs, and his team’s invention would help elderly and disabled people get around more easily.

The idea is good enough to garner national attention, officials said.

The Christian Home Educators Fellowship team was selected as one of 24 regional winning teams from a group of 5,206 entries, said Shawn Frost, district sales manager for the Southern region for Toshiba America Business Solutions, Inc. About 15,963 students total participated in the competition this year, according to a news release.

The competition is meant to spur students interest and experiences in science, technology, engineering and math, according to a news release. The students said they brainstormed, drew and colored, measured, weighed, designed and crafted their prototype. The work was hard, said Devon Keeter, 8.

"(It was hard) trying to figure out where to put things," Devon said.

The Hover Chair combines a hover platform and solar power to "replace the current wheelchair and make it easier for disabled people to get around," according to the release. Traditional wheels on the wheelchair are replaced with pressure jets mounted to a hover platform, according to the release. Coach Valerie Land, who helped the boys with their project, said the boys had to research, design and really work on their project.

The team also designed a Website that is not yet completed or online, Land said.

Each of the regional winners will move on to the national phase of the competition, according to the release. The teams will compete to be among the eight national winning teams chosen — that includes four teams in first place and four teams in second place.

Students will build on their idea and submit more in April for the national judging, Land said.

Those in first place will get a $10,000 U.S. Series EE Savings Bond. Second-place teams will get a $5,000 savings bond. The teams also will get a trip with their families and others to Washington, D.C., for a gala awards weekend in June. The students who go to D.C. get to visit Capitol Hill, meet Congress members and be in a Science Showcase to demonstrate their ideas, the release said.

The science competition is important, Land said. Participating in the competition forced the boys to channel their creativity, to be innovators, learn science and be focused on a purpose, Land said. That kind of thinking leads to inventions and dreams fulfilled, she said.

The boys all said they’d likely do the competition again.

During the ceremony Wednesday, the boys fidgeted when Land talked to a crowd of parents and friends about the hover chair and what the team did to win regional recognition. The surprise had worn off for the boys, Land said.

After the accolades, each team member received a Toshiba HD camcorder and Land received a laptop. Eli Meyer, 6, dressed in a tie and vest, got out his camera and started filming people. He said it felt "good" to win.

"The boys, they don’t understand the magnitude — how important this is — they are just having fun," Land said.