Shelton robotics team raising funds for trip to international championship (Slideshow)

Despite their practices being filled with constant laughter and smiles, one seventh grade Shelton robotics team is working hard to prepare for the First Lego League (FLL) World Championship that takes place in St. Louis, Mo., from April 26 to 29.

Before the team can compete against the nearly 1,500 other teams in front of an estimated 65,000 spectators, SIStematic will have to raise money to cover the cost of the trip. According to one of the team’s coaches Michelle Piccolo, the total amount the team needs to raise at this time is unclear, but they’re trying to raise as much as possible before it’s time to leave for the competition.

“We have a little bit of a ways to go,” said Piccolo. “Obviously, with this age group we have to not only worry about funding the trip for the kids, but the parents or coaches as well. We’re trying to cut back the costs as much as we can.”

Piccolo said the team has already received donations from the city, the Board of Education, a sponsor, parents of team members, and friends, as well as a number of donations through a GoFundMe page that is still open to help cover the team’s travel expenses. She added that the team is very appreciative of everyone who has supported them.

After a successful fund-raiser a couple of weeks ago, the team is preparing for its next fund-raiser, which will take place on April 23 at local frozen yogurt shop Berry Chill. A percentage of the price paid for every frozen yogurt purchased that day will be donated toward the team’s travel expenses.

Receiving a push from the city

One of the team’s programmers, Diya Patel said the support the team has received from the community has motivated members to work harder and stay focused on the next level of competition, despite all having such busy schedules.

“It’s motivating, encouraging and inspiring, because we have all of these people all around the state that want to see us compete,” said programmer Ria Dalvi.

Some team members are nervous, but the entire team is excited to have the opportunity to travel to another state and compete at a higher level of competition. The team couldn’t agree on what was more exciting, the opportunity to have their invention patented or the chance to be crowned international champions.

One thing they could agree on is that they still have a lot of work to do before achieving either or both of those milestones.

One of the team’s builders and project researcher, Connor Dapp, said he’s excited for the competition but has his eyes on having the team’s “Aluminecho Net” patented.

The FLL championships have three components — addressing a global issue, building a robot that is made of Legos, and displaying “core values” — and competing teams are judged in each of the three areas.  

SIStematic decided that its global issue would be “by-catch,” or the act of capturing a marine creature while fishing commercially. The team focused specifically on the by-catch of dolphins and created the Aluminecho Net in an effort to address the issue.

“Not many people have a patented idea, and I think that’s pretty awesome,” said Dapp.

Patel agreed.

“It’s exciting to have an idea that could potentially change the world and save dolphins,” said Patel.

Fine tuning and adjustments

With much work to do and not much time before the championships, SIStematic is scrambling to practice its presentation skills as much as possible.

FLL mentor Laurie Vogl attends the team’s practices to help members refine their ability to convey their core values to judges. Vogl and her husband have been mentors for years.

The team practiced answering presentation questions and clearly communicating the process of developing their project/invention. They’re also rebuilding their entire robot from scratch, rewriting their entire skit and redesigning their board.

Some team members recently visited the Plumb Memorial Library and had the opportunity to show their project to children and some adults.

“It was cool experience,” said Dapp. “I remember one kid in particular that was so fascinated with how we built our robot with Legos. He was the one that we all thought could potentially be into robotics when he gets older.”

The team works long days but members know they have to put in extra hours if they want to compete against the “best of the best” at the international level of competition.

SIStematic team members all attributed a portion of their success to their parents.

The team’s second programmer, Ria Dalvi, said the team couldn’t have been as successful as it has without the help of the parents.

“Almost all of our parents help out,” said Dalvi. “They’re usually here with us, help us with our boards, with the robot, and drive us here, too, which is important.”

Life lessons learned

As much as the team wants to finish the season as international champion, during the discussion of their core values members all agreed that the experience is not about “what you win, it’s about what you learn.”

The team also emphasized the importance of working together efficiently.

“Teamwork is probably one of the most important life lessons we’ll ever need to learn,” said Dapp.

People who would like to donate to the team and its journey to the international championship may visit the team’s GoFundMe account,