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‘Tis the Season…for ROBOTS

December marks the beginning of competition in this year’s FIRST Tech Challenge, with qualifying matches scheduled across Virginia in the coming weeks. More than 140 teams statewide now participate in the fast-growing FTC robotics program.

FTC is one of the exciting contests created by FIRST, an international non-profit organization dedicated to ramping up youthful enthusiasm for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the so-called STEM subjects. But the program is much more than just fun and games. FIRST participants learn teamwork, real-world skills like problem solving, and also qualify for millions of dollars in college scholarships.

This season, FIRST Tech Challenge teams made up of middle and high school students have designed and built robots to vie in a game called “FTC BLOCK PARTY,” which challenges their remote-controlled robots to fetch and load plastic blocks into baskets.

The timed challenges will play out in a series of qualifying rounds where teams will compete for the chance to go to the Virginia State Championship in March. All FIRST events are free and open to the public.

• December 7, 2013 – Central Virginia Qualifier, St. Christopher’s School, Richmond
• December 14, 2013 – Northern Virginia Qualifier, Battlefield H.S., Haymarket, Va.
• January 11, 2014 – Shenandoah Qualifier – UVA Slaughter Rec. Center, Charlottesville, Va.
• January 11, 2014 – Southwest Virginia Qualifier, Southwest Virginia Community College, Richlands, Va.
• January 25, 2014 – Eastern Virginia Qualifier, Norfolk State University, Norfolk, Va.
• February 8, 2014 – North Central Virginia Qualifier, Locust Grove M.S., Locust Grove, Va.
• March 1, 2014 – State Championship, Arthur Ashe Center, Richmond, Va.

“The competition is demanding, and these kids work hard,” said Carol Edelman, Director of Programs and Outreach at VirginiaFIRST. “One of the big reasons that FIRST Tech Challenge has more than doubled in size in Virginia over two years is that the robot kits are smaller and more affordable than the ‘big’ robots featured in the FIRST Robotics Competition. That makes FTC more accessible, and the kids still get to learn and still enjoy the thrill of the games.”

“The science is great and the contests are cool, but what really matters to a lot of kids is the chance to be part of a team,” said 16-year-old Morgan Clemons, captain of team “Duck & Cover,” a rookie team made up of home schooled students from the Richmond area. “This is something we just wouldn’t get to do if it weren’t for FIRST robotics.”

To learn more, including details of upcoming robotics contests, please visit virginiafirst.org.

Story and photos by: Jim Babb, VirginiaFIRST

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