Portland middle school inventions aim to solve problems that nag the elderly

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GORHAM — Phyllis Jackson and Shirley O’Brien have been plagued by two different problems.

The 93-year-old residents of the Inn at Village Square had difficulty doing tasks that most people take for granted.

Jackson needed a way to carry a hot cup of coffee while pushing her walker. O’Brien, meanwhile, needed find a way to read a book without causing pain in her hands.

Both found their solutions within the creative sixth-grade minds of students at Portland’s Lyman Moore Middle School.

More than 20 students presented their inventions to residents at the Inn at Village Square on Monday.

The students previously interviewed three of the residents. They asked about their daily challenges and then chose two from a long list of possibilities.

On Monday, the students broke into four different groups to present the fruits of their labor.

Two of the groups tackled Jackson’s coffee dilemma.

Mason Martell showed off his group’s cup-holder – a Styrofoam rectangle covered in a “somewhat leathery material” that clamped onto the top handlebars of the walker.

One was custom-made for Jackson’s walker, while another prototype was adjustable to fit any size walker. Both had an opening large enough to secure the coffee mugs used by the living center.

Martell said it took four hours to perfect the adjustable prototype. “Once we got it done, it worked out pretty well,” he said.

Amin Mur’s group took a different path. The group fastened a clamp to a can that was slightly larger than a coffee mug, but the handle of which fit smoothly down a slot cut in the side. Mur demonstrated how the lid could then be put on the can. 

“It’s got a lid to not allow a lot of heat out, if you like your coffee hot,” Mur said.

The other two groups tackled O’Brien’s problem, building laptop book tables. One wooden design had two flaps to hold pages open, while the other design was padded cardboard.

Each could be adjusted so the angle of the page suited the reader.

“We think this solution will solve all of your problems,” said Kate Johnson, whose group introduced their book holder to O’Brien, a former Radio City Music Hall Rockette, with a dance routine.

After the presentation, O’Brien gave the dance routine a good review, but didn’t suggest the girls follow her footsteps and become Rockettes.

“It hurts your knees,” she said.

Teacher Julie Marshall, who volunteered at the facility where her mother once lived, said she was impressed at how earnestly each student attacked the task.

“I have never seen a group of sixth-graders so enthusiastic about what they were doing,” Marshall said.

Assistant school Principal Kathie Marquis-Girard said the challenge covered all of the bases of modern learning: rigor, relationships and relevance.

“What a great way to teach 21st century skills,” she said.

Jackson and O’Brien were equally impressed.

“I thought they did great,” Jackson said. “Whenever I have a problem, I’m going to ask them.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net

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Lyman Moore Middle School sixth-graders Sayra Byras, left, Julia Martin and Andrea Castro demonstrate a book holder during a presentation to seniors on Monday at the Inn at Village Square in Gorham.

Mason Martell and other students from Lyman Moore Middle School in Portland on Monday explain a coffee cup-holder for a walker to people living at the Inn at Village Square in Gorham.

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