Lincoln students take third in nation for innovation contest

Students at Lincoln K-8 District-Wide School pitched the idea of using a ball chair to produce energy. While the contest may have just rewarded their concept, the students are hoping to see their idea turned into a reality.

Lincoln K-8 student Alexa Schmidt. (Contributed photo)

A handful of Rochester students want the time they spend sitting down to be productive, and they’re well on their way toward accomplishing that goal.

Along with their adviser, the team of students from Lincoln K-8 District-Wide School recently took third place in a national competition through the Thomas Edison Innovation Foundation. Calling themselves "The Chair Affair," they pitched the idea of using a ball chair to produce energy.

“We all know that alternative seating helps kids in the classroom, so we found a way that alternative seating can be used to help solve a world problem,” fifth-grader Alexa Schmidt said in a video the students submitted to the foundation.

The team also included Charlotte Cummings, Zoe Chen and Benjamin Werner, as well as gifted and talented specialist Vandi King.

The idea is that the bouncing motion of the person sitting on the ball would trigger a bellows that would trigger a paddle wheel, which would turn a motor. The energy would be stored inside a battery bank.


In the video, Werner held up a diagram explaining how they got to their final design. They call their invention the “Energy Maker,” which they sometimes refer to as the "EM."

In the video they submitted,, the students say it could produce enough energy to charge students' electronics or "maybe even a light bulb," according to a description of the project from Rochester Public Schools.

“I bet you have heard of solar power and wind energy — and now everyone will be talking about 'bounce energy,' ” Cummings said in the video.

Chen also spoke in the video about other benefits of using a ball chair, such as the fact that it provides exercise and helps students perform better academically.

According to Rochester Public Schools, it's the first time a Minnesota team has landed in the top three finalists for the competition, which included 180 teams from 21 states.

In addition to the design, the Rochester students also included the cost, both as a package deal or as a DIY kit. King, the students' adviser on the project, said they're working to find a local engineer to help make their idea a reality.

“I’m hoping that these students have moved from seeing themselves as a student interested in science and engineering to someone who sees themselves as a scientist and engineer,” King said in a press release.


Jordan Shearer covers K-12 education for the Post Bulletin. A Rochester native, he graduated from Bemidji State University in 2013 before heading out to write for a small newsroom in the boonies of western Nebraska. Bringing things full circle, he returned to Rochester in 2020 just shy of a decade after leaving. Readers can reach Jordan at 507-285-7710 or
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