By Blue Cheese 1086
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Our team spends so much time together that you would think that we know everything about each other's lives. After all, when you are drilling out rivets or tapping shafts, there is plenty of time for conversation: "Guess what my dog did last night?" or "What did you think about the physics test?" that sort of thing. Somehow though, we didn't realize until recently that all of the primary team members of our school's Battle of the Brains (aka Academic Quiz Bowl)team are also members of Blue Cheese.The four young men, all juniors, competed against a team from Isle of Wight Co. recently and scored a win. We were able to pull the episode on YouTube and all had a good laugh when we saw them introducing themselves. They have so much personality and that really came through. It was just another reminder that our students know about much more than robots.
Feb. 6, 2018
Blue Cheese has had significant successes advocating for STEM/STEAM education programs. Our collaboration with Virginia's lawmakers helped result in STEM competition grants for schools in high-poverty areas over the past two years. Recently we visited the Virginia General Assembly to speak in favor of House Bill 1111, proposed legislation that would establish a STEAM education fund in the Commonwealth. Seven of our students and one from FRC 1418 Vae Victus went to a meeting of the House Committee on Science and Technology. We met Delegates Kathy Tran and Hala Ayala, the bills chief co-patrons. Our advocacy work is structured in the same manner as our robotics. We have a mentor who works with interested students on researching opportunities for impact on programs that the students think are important. She guides them on the tools of civic engagement like contacting government leaders and attending public meetings: hands-on work facilitated by adult mentors. It's like government class, but better because it's not restricted to the page: students learn by doing.After Del. Tran presented the bill and it was discussed by committee members, Erik B. from Vae Victus and Talon K. from Blue Cheese approached the podium and spoke in favor of the bill. The students were elated when the bill passed unanimously out of committee and was referred to the House Appropriations committee. After the vote our students were able to meet several legislators, including Del. John McGuire who represents the district that includes Deep Run HS. He told us about one of his STEM learning experiences and how it changed his life.During the committee hearing we heard presentations and public comments on two other topics, in addition to HB 1111. One had to do with STEM program partnerships that involved NASA and Virginia. The other involved digital devices and embedded software. It was a wonderful civics lesson and a "grate" way to spend part of a school holiday.Our team continues to follow the progress of HB 1111 with interest. We have been writing to other teams to encourage them to join us in advocating for the bill. Our hope is that it will have enough support to make it to the Senate on "crossover day." You can keep appraised of the bill's status and find out how you can participate by visiting our "New Legislation" page.
Feb. 4, 2018
Our team members may graduate and go off to college and then on to a job, but they never leave the Blue Cheese family. During build season, competition season, and time traveling, we build more than robots. We build relationships that last beyond high school. You can see this closeness in the pride that we take in the successes of our alumni. We hear about jobs they take, awards they won, and projects that they are working on and our mentors get all teary-eyed.We won't embarrass them by posting pictures from their rookie years on the team, but four of our alumni are part of VCU Engineering's Hyperloop team that was named a finalist in the SpaceXHyperloop Competition this week. SpaceX launched this challenge in 2015 "to accelerate the development of functional prototypes and encourage student innovation." This year's competition focuses on a single criterion-- maximum speed. "All Pods must be self propelled," according to the competition web site. Learn more about the genesis of the competition here.This challenge is remarkably like what the students did when they were on Blue Cheese. They took very specific requirements from a design challenge, worked with mentors to invent solutions to address the problem, and then created drawings in Computer Assisted Design software to submit for consideration (Blue Cheese uses software donated by Solidworks Education). Teams that advance in the competition will fabricate their Pods and travel to California to test their vehicles that are meant to be "a fifth mode [of transport] after planes, trains, cars and boats."Even more gratifying to us than this impressive contest accomplishment is the ongoing involvement of these alumni with FIRST. All four of them are mentoring FRC teams this year. Three of them assist Blue Cheese and one is helping FRC 422 MechTech Dragons. They carve out time after their school work and Hyperloop tasks to help younger students learn and advance. They are shining examples of what makes FIRST work and we wish them all the best as they continue with Hyperloop. Now we just gotta figure out how to get a Blue Cheese sticker on the Pod...(Above: Jared B., Blue Cheese CAD Lead, lays his hands on the first parts fabricated for our 2018 robot. Jared, a sophomore, works closely with CAD mentors who are also part of VCU's Hyperloop Team.)
Jan. 25, 2018
It's Build Season, so my thoughts are pretty much always on robotics, but not when I go in for a little emergency dental work... or so I thought. My dentist recently retired and I was meeting his replacement for the first time. I knew from his bio that he is a Richmond native who studied biology at the University of Mary Washington. He went on to get his Master of Science in physiology at the VCU School of Medicine and then earned his Doctor of Dental Surgery from the VCU School of Dentistry. Impressive.I made an off-hand comment that indicated to him that I have an interest in science and he asked me about what I do. The next thing I knew, he was reminiscing fondly about his time on FRC 540 Talon at nearby Godwin High School. He said with a little regret that he was sorry that he didn't end up doing more with robotics. I replied that, in a way, he did. According to the results from an ongoing longitudinal study by Brandeis University, students who participate in FIRST Robotics programs are more likely than their non-robotics peers to stick with STEM in higher education. In fact, over 75% of FIRST alumni are in a STEM field as a student or professional. Those three degrees Dr. C has hanging on his wall support that conclusion. Anecdotally, he said that all of his friends from those days stayed with STEM too.Next, my doctor's assistant jumped into the conversation. It turns out that her son is a freshman at John Marshall High School in the City of Richmond. Guess who's kid is a rookie with the FTC Team 11484 French Toast Bunch. She said that he is a pretty quiet kid, but is passionate about his new robotics team and running track. Coincidentally, the coach of French Toast is a Blue Cheese alumna and she brings her students up to our build site for help from time to time. I may have met him and didn't know it.I can't say that I enjoyed my time in the chair, but I did get a kick out of connecting with a FIRST alum and a new parent while I was taking care of business. I encouraged both of them to get more involved with FIRST's programs. I have a "Gouda" feeling about my new dentist.
Jan. 9, 2018
One of the first questions we frequently field at demonstrations we do in the community (like the one at RVA MakerFest, pictured right), is, "Where do you get your parts?"The answer is an extensive list that varies from year to year. The best way to break that list down into easily understandable parts is probably to divide it into four categories: parts we fabricate, parts we have custom fabricated, parts we purchase from industry suppliers, and parts that were intended for other uses, but that we discover and repurpose for our needs.Many of the parts that our students fabricate in-house are made from industrial plastics like Delrin® and Lexan. Delrin® happens to be a product of one of our sponsors, DuPont. This year we received a generous donation of quantities of both plastics from our sponsor Trident Plastics. We also fabricate many parts from aluminum that we purchase from another sponsor, BMG Metals. We use tools and machines like saws, mills, and lathes at our build site host, Powertrain Control Solutions, to create the results that we need.When we purchase aluminum for use in our shop, we always buy more to ship directly to our metal fabricator, Watson Machine Corporation. After our CAD team finishes the designs for the large aluminum pieces of our robot's frame, they send the design files to the team at Watson that laser-cuts those pieces for us. Frequently Justin A. and his team come in over the weekend to do the job for us. We often test their patience, but they always come through for Team Blue Cheese.The bulk of our off-the-shelf purchases are made from three companies: AndyMark, Vex Robotics, and McMaster-Carr. However, the Ashland location of Fastenal has been a longtime generous sponsor as well. We can't say enough Gouda things about them. They donate many of our bits and pieces like rivets, screws, nuts, and bolts. Our pneumatics are purchased from Bimba Manufacturing which has always been really nice about expediting our orders when we are getting panicked late into build season.Depending on the year, we may purchase nontraditional parts from almost anywhere. We have been known to buy flashlights, stove drip pans, seatbelt material, rubber sheets meant for slingshots, pool noodles, etc. Sometimes we go to the store and wander the aisles looking for inspiration to help us solve a design problem. Sure, we have an account at Amazon, but you might find us at Dick's Sporting Goods, Harbor Freight Tools or somewhere else. So, the short answer to the question may just be, "Anywhere we can find something useful."
Jan. 6, 2018
<div>Like every other <a href="https://www.firstinspires.org/robotics/frc">FIRST Robotics Competition team</a> on the planet, we are excited to get started on designing and building our robot for the 2018 season. This year's challenge: <a href="https://www.firstinspires.org/robotics/frc/game-and-season">FIRST Power Up</a> promises to be a game where strategy is even more important than usual. Teams will have to decide when and where to deploy the power cubes and when and if to use power boosts. </div><div>Today our team enjoyed kickoff from more locations than it has in the past. As usual, we had a small group go to VCU to watch the live stream and pick up the kit of parts with other teams from the Central Virginia region. The bulk of the team worked in a <a href="https://www.henricolibrary.org/online-services/reserve-a-room">meeting room</a> at the <a href="https://www.henricolibrary.org/locations/twinhickory">Twin Hickory Library</a>, while our media team shot footage in the <a href="https://www.henricolibrary.org/digital-media-labs">digital media lab</a> upstairs. Most exciting was that, for the first time, we had two representatives in New Hampshire for the live kickoff and field reveal at <a href="https://www.snhu.edu/">Southern New Hampshire University</a> near FIRST HQ. Those mentors were able to look at, touch, and photograph a real field, instead of a mockup made of plywood. They were in nearly constant communication with our crew back in Virginia, answering questions and taking photos of specific field elements. </div><div>Following the game announcement, the team started reading & analyzing the game manual and discussing strategy, in advance of talking robot design. Tomorrow we will begin building field components that we can use for testing. Have a "grate" build season everyone! If you want to get an idea of what this year's competitions will look like, check out the link to the animation by clicking on the video thumbnail above.</div></div>
Dec. 23, 2017
Over the last year and a half, since our team began using Slack as its primary method of online team communications, Blue Cheese has experienced some grate improvements! Using Slack, we encourage team-wide collaboration and discussion that was previously impossible. We have created channels for different subject and specialty areas, others for student leadership and mentors, and more for general discussion and announcements. The format also makes it easy to direct message individual members of the team when required, without looking up email addresses. We can discuss topics relating to specific matters or open discussions to the whole team. We even use it at competitions to get information out to all team members regardless of their location, using their mobile app.Slack has additional utility as a file sharing platform. We post forms, videos, graphics files, and more. We are able to take quick polls to see who plans to attend an event. During a recent social media contest, the app automatically reminded everyone once every 24 hours to go vote for our team's submission. Events from our Google Calendar are posted to Slack as well.Slack not only accommodates professional conversation, but also gives us a way to communicate with team members in things not related to robotics at all. Fun off-topic channels keep the team engaged and forge connections between teammates. This casual conversation improves our synergy as a team and provides a great medium for sharing our love of FIRST!We have also found that Slack is a Gouda way to keep our alumni engaged with the team. They can keep up with our activities, offer suggestions, share their news, and just stay connected with their friends.If you are a nonprofit or an educational organization, you may be eligible for special pricing. We are able to use it for free so the value has just been amazing for us.
Nov. 17, 2017
When you look at our shirt, on our robots, or in our pit area, you will see the logo for Midas of Richmond. That's because Midas (including its owner, Mark Smith) is our largest donor. In addition to donating free oil changes that we are able to sell in the community (we keep all $20 for each oil change we sell), Midas matches donations that our students are able to get in the fall.Some students are most comfortable talking to family and friends and asking for financial support for this program that they love. Others don't think twice about going out to local companies and asking for help. Many are comfortable selling products since they have participated in similar programs since elementary school. Those students have the oil changes and the cheese sale that we do using products from Cabot Cheese. Fundraising can be a challenge for anyone. We are especially proud of our introverts who push themselves and give it their best shot.If you are interested in supporting Blue Cheese, now is a "grate" time. Your donation will go twice as far toward helping our team buy the many pieces and parts that we will need for our 2018 robot and for training our exceptionally large rookie class. And, if you want your name on the shirt, it's just $500.
Nov. 14, 2017
Each year our team hosts a FIRST LEGO League tournament so that younger students have a venue for running their robots, showing off their projects and demonstrating their core values. This year several dozen teams came to Deep Run High School on Nov. 11 to compete with Gracious Professionalism.One of the reasons that we love hosting this event is that it is a wonderful teambuilding exercise. Rookies and veterans alike come together to set up the venue and build the fields. They enjoy eating the snacks and working together on the many jobs that must be done to run a successful tournament. This year some of the students also made goodies for our bake sale to support Deep Run High School Robotics Boosters.Something new this year: we invited younger students to help us assemble our LEGO-on-the-Go bags. We talked to them about our program and how important outreach is to our team. Then we let them select LEGOs to include. The table was very popular and always busy.This year's FLL challenge is called Hydro Dynamics. It revolves around how we find, transport and dispose of water. One of the highlights for many participants was getting their robot to flush the toilet on the field. Teams that qualified for the Championship tournament will compete the first weekend in December.
Nov. 4, 2017
We have an exceptionally large rookie class this year. We were able to bring about half of them to IROC a couple weeks ago and many more of them are with the team at Rumble in the Roads this weekend. Rumble is an off-season FRC robotics event held in the Hampton Roads area each fall, sponsored by FRC teams 1610 (Blackwater Robotics), 2363 (Triple Helix), and 5957 (Cat 5 CyberCanes).We've been practicing our team cheers at the end of each of our meetings, so the group was boisterous in the stands this morning, in spite of the early wake up to get to Heritage High School bright and early. In an effort to get as many rookies as possible into the pits to get a sense of what the action looks like, we had to set up a schedule. No more than two could observe/help at any one time. If you haven't been in the pit area during competition, the action can be pretty frenetic and the quarters are a little tight. Rumble has judging as well, so you may be answering questions as you are working on the robot, getting it ready for its next round.One of our rookies had the opportunity to speak with one of the judges during her pit shift. It seemed like it was a positive experience for her because she asked to take a selfie with the judge afterwards. The next big team event on our calendar is a FIRST LEGO League competition that we are hosting at our school, Nov. 11.