When Legos Take Over

Colonial Trail Elementary's "Bionicle Brains" team.
Plastic robots took over the Deep Run High School gymnasium Nov. 13, as 24 teams of local students competed in the annual FIRST Lego League (FLL) Robotics Tournament at the school.

The teams sent their Lego robots into competition against others in the event hosted by the Deep Run Blue Cheese Robotics Team 1086, which annually competes in the high school FIRST Robotics Competition and FIRST Tech Challenge.

The FLL tournament introduces students in grades 4-8 to real world engineering challenges in which the students must design, build and program their own robots using “LEGO MINDSTORMS” technology. The competition is split into two categories, Division 1 Teams for elementary school students and Division 2 for middle school students.

“The purpose is to get kids excited and interested in science, technology and engineering and prepare them for the future,” said Ann Kutz, judge and volunteer.

Each year there is a different challenge – this year’s being “Body Forward,” which focused on biomedical engineering, or ground-breaking ways to repair injuries, overcome genetic predispositions and increase the body’s potential.

Teams are judged in four competition categories – each worth 25 percent – including Robot Performance, Project Presentation, Robot Design and Teamwork. Besides construction of a Lego robot that performs tasks on a playing field, the teams are asked to research a problem facing today’s scientists and present their findings.

The Bionicle Brains (pictured above), a team of fourth- and fifth-graders from Colonial Trail Elementary in Glen Allen, created a solution for poor circulation in the body as part of their project. “They came up with a made-up ‘button’ that would help monitor and increase blood flow in the body,” said Deb Gribbon, coach and fifth-grade teacher for Colonial Trail.

The Lego-robot battle – the “main event” – was held in the school’s gymnasium, where a few members of one team, consisting of 10 players, battled another team to see whose robot could complete the most tasks in two and a half minutes.

“It’s really fun, and you get to learn a lot about robotics,” said Elle Rosenbaum of the Bio Bots team. She’s a seventh-grader at Goochland Middle school and has participated the past several years.

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is a non-profit organization that helps students 6-18 foster an interest in math and science, learn life skills and prepare them for future career paths through their programs and annual competitions.

In addition to the FLL, the FIRST program also has a junior league for children in kindergarten through the third grade, and two high school competitions, FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) and FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC).

“We had six weeks to design, prototype, and build a 120 pound robot,” said Deep Run senior Matthew Petrie, a member of the Blue Cheese team, describing the FRC competition. During the FLL event, the team displayed last year’s robot – a four-wheeled machine that could kick around a soccer ball, which was inspired by the World Cup.

The Blue Cheese Robotics Team 1086 has been the regional winner at VCU for the past three years and won the North Carolina regional this year. It also won the Chairman’s Award last year for its ability to build and demonstrate robots to the community.

Fran Nolen, assistant coach of the Blue Cheese team and a high school physics teacher for 12 years, said the culture of the program has taken hold at Deep Run.

“I have an engineering background and have slowly made this a part of the curriculum here,” Nolen said.

FIRST was founded 1989 by Dean Kamen, an American entrepreneur and inventor. FIRST involves over 212,000 students, 19,134 teams, 57,376 mentors, over 34,000 volunteers and more than 3,500 sponsors including LEGO, NASA and many others. The program educates students in 57 countries about science and technology while building skills in innovation, leadership a nd self-confidence.

Reynolds CC to host sculptor Paul DiPasquale

Reynolds Community College will host Richmond sculptor Paul DiPasquale Sept. 28 as he shares his presentation “Art Talk, Why Art Matters” from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Conference Center Gallery of the Workforce Development and Conference Center on the Parham Road Campus, located at 1651 E. Parham Road in Richmond. This event is free and open to the public. > Read more.

Free children’s clothing for those in need

The Children's Clothing Closet at Highland Springs United Methodist Church will be open Saturday, Aug. 27 and Tuesday, Aug. 30 to provide free new or nearly new children's clothing for families in need, prior to the start of the school year. The Clothing Closet will be open from 10 a.m. to noon both days. The church is located at 22 North Holly Avenue. > Read more.

Weekend Top 10

Beautiful fall weather is back this weekend! Don’t leave your favorite pooch at home – take the whole family to Canine Companions’ DogFest Walk ‘n Roll at West Broad Village or FETCH a Cure’s annual Mutt Strutt at Deep Run Park. Pets are also welcome at this weekend’s Central Virginia Celtic Festival and Highland Games. Halloween events taking place Sunday include the University of Richmond’s 18th annual Trick or Treat Street and Goblins and Gourds at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.


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The Henrico County office of Virginia Cooperative Extension is selling apples, peanuts, honey and cookbooks to benefit local 4-H youth programs. Orders are due by Oct. 26.

The sale features Virginia produce and six different cookbooks, each with more than 140 recipes. The items and prices are:

•Winesap or York apples, $20 per half-bushel, or 83 cents per pound;
•Raw peanuts, with recipes, $10 per 2-pound sack;
•Salted or unsalted cocktail peanuts, $15 per 2-pound sack;
•Honey, $10 per 1-pound jar; and
•Cookbooks, $8 apiece. The titles are “On the Grill,” “Kids in the Kitchen,” “Slow Cooker,” “Homemade Classics,” “Cookies & Bars” and “Quick Fix.” Each spiral-bound cookbook measures 5½ by 4¼ inches and includes a soft cover and 150 pages.

Order forms are available at http://www.henrico.us/extension, the Extension Office, any Henrico library or by calling (804) 501-5160. A check or money order payable to Henrico 4-H Fund must accompany each order.

Because supplies are limited, orders received after Wednesday, Oct. 26 will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis. Orders will be available for pickup from 3 to 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 10 and from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday, Nov. 11 at the loading dock of the Human Services Building, 8600 Dixon Powers Drive. Full text

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