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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.


Community

Varina Ruritans honor students

The Varina Ruritan Club hosted the winners of its 2014 Environmental Essay contest at its monthly meeting March 11 in Varina.

The contest, in its eighth year, was for the first time open to students in grades 3-5 at Varina Elementary School. (It previously was open to Sandston Elementary School students.)

The meeting included the winners, parents of the winners, Varina Elementary principal Mark Tyler and several teachers who were in charge of the contest at the school. > Read more.

Baseball game to benefit Glen Allen Buddy Ball


For the fifth consecutive year, St. Christopher’s and Benedictine will play a varsity baseball game at Glen Allen's RF&P Park as part of a fundraising effort for the River City Buddy Ball program.

The game will take place Saturday, April 12, at 7 p.m., and the teams hope to raise $3,000 through donations, raffles and other efforts. Admission to the game is free, but fans who attend are asked to donate funds for the Glen Allen Youth Athletic Association's Buddy Ball program, which enables disabled children and teens to play baseball. > Read more.

Highland Springs field to be dedicated in honor of longtime coach Spears

The Henrico Division of Recreation and Parks will dedicate the Highland Springs Little League Majors Field in memory and honor of Rev. Robert “Bob” L. Spears, Jr., on April 12 with a ceremony at the field at 8 a.m.

Spears served the league as a coach and volunteer for 30 years and was praised as a pioneer for equality. His “Finish strong” motto embodied ethical perseverance on the field and in life. > Read more.

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Entertainment

Restaurant watch

Find out how your favorite dining establishments fared during their most recent inspections by the Virginia Department of Health. > Read more.

A fun, fuzzy ride

‘Muppets Most Wanted’ worthy of its franchise

Do Muppets sleep? It’s hard to say.

They don’t really eat (or breathe, as far as anyone can tell). And only occasionally do they have visible, functioning legs.

As far as anyone knows, sleeping might be off the table. And that makes it very hard to accuse the Muppets of sleepwalking through their latest feature, Muppets Most Wanted – even if that’s exactly what’s going on.

Jim Henson’s beloved creations were back in a big way after 2011’s The Muppets, with fame and fortune and even an Oscar, a first for the group (“Rainbow Connection” was nominated, yet somehow failed to collect at the ’79 ceremony). > Read more.

Weekend Top 10


There’s no excuse for kids and families to not get out of the house this weekend! The Armour House and Gardens has an “Egg-celent Egg-venture” planned and Reynolds Community College will host the Reynolds Family Palooza. If you’re looking to give back to your community, Dorey Park will host Walk Like MADD and coordinators2inc will present the annual Kids Walk for Kids. And a special event for children with special needs will be on Sunday – the Caring Bunny will be at Virginia Center Commons. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

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