The Bowmar Builders are an FLL team associated with Bowmar Elementary School. The purpose of this blog is to help other students interested in robotics to learn from what we have learned. As an FLL Robotics team we use the Lego EV3 robotics system and the Mindstorms graphical programming language.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Dogs and Birds

By Jonathan E.

How dogs can help birds. More like hurt.

I learned that dogs can hurt birds. They usually hurt birds even though they are both pets living together. They usually show predatory instincts when they are near a bird. You should take your dog to the vet if they are showing predatory instincts to your bird. I have found out dogs hurt birds, not help them.

The safety of the bird and the prevention of an incident are enormous. Even if your dog is simply showing interest in your bird, rather than wanting to hurt your bird, he can still accidentally hurt your bird in play. Supervision and secure housing for the bird is a must. Your dog should be isolated from your bird. Dogs still show a bit of predatory instinct even if they are a house dog.

Bekker, M. (2013). "Can Dogs and Birds Live Together Safely?", April 23, 2013. Retrieved October 23, 2016.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Review of “Pets in the Classroom: The Difference They Can Make” by Ashlea Dancer

By: Mateo Byrd


In 2012 Ashlea Dancer wrote a Masters Thesis about the benefits and concerns of pets in the classroom.


There are many benefits to having pets in the classroom.

  • The students learn how to work together. The classroom has to communicate and work together to help the pet. (Meadan & Jegatheesan, 2010) 
  •  Having a pet creates a non-judgmental environment in which a student can talk freely. (Meadan & Jegatheesan, 2010) 
  • Students get an understanding of the needs of others. (Meadan & Jegatheesan, 2010; Brous, 2010). 
  • Students learn how to appropriately respond to the pet’s needs and behaviors. Students learn self-reliance and self-confidence. (Brous, 2010). 
  • Students learn to recognize the pets needs and take initiative to respond. Students will gain a sense of perspectives of others as they consider the feelings and situation of the pet. (Stone, 2010) 
  •  Students learn self-monitoring skills. (Brous, 2010) Self-monitoring skills are when students monitor themselves and people around them for correct behavior. Animals can have a calming effect on a child. (Burch, 2003) 
  • Pets can be used in the curriculum to make learning more fun. (Meadan & Jegatheesan, 2010) 
  • Pets benefit all students, including those with disabilities. (Brous, 2010; Stone, 2010)

Potential Concerns

The teacher should be the main caretaker. Make sure the pet doesn’t escape. Make sure the students aren't allergic. (Owens & Williams, 1995) “To be a humane role model you must (1) consistently provide all the care the pet needs, (2) establish a classroom code of humane treatment, and (3) remain vigilant in detecting and preventing students’ over-handling, mistreatment, or theft of the animal. (Humane Society, 2009)

Selecting an Appropriate Classroom Pet

School district and building policies control what teachers can do. Figure out all safety concerns such as:
  • Allergies 
  • In what situation it is prone to biting 
  • Age consideration 
    • No for kids under 5: (Meadan & Jegatheesan, 2010) Reptiles, Amphibians, Ducklings, Baby chicks, 
  • Salmonella considerations 
    • Hamsters,   Reptiles (including turtles) 
  •  No wild or exotic animals (even if found in pet stores) (Humane Society, 2009) For example: chinchillas, frogs, lizards, snakes, turtles Sleeping habits (Humane Society, 2009) 
  • Don't disturb nocturnal animals, For example: hamsters 
    • Rabbits are awake in the morning and evening and sleep during the day. (Humane Society, 2009) 
  • Need to Provide habitat 
  • Potential background noise during class

Pet Safety

Wear necessary protection and/or sanitary gear. Wash hands with soap and water before and after handling live specimen. (Edietis, Gray, Riggs, & Coffman, 2007, p. 37)

Pets in the Curriculum

Having a pet can open opportunities to help students want to read and write. There are many books on animals. You can get them to write stories with the animal included. (Meaden & Jegathesan, 2010)

Animal Assisted-Therapy

Several types of pets can be used in animal-assisted therapy. These include: Dogs, Cats, Horses, Farm Animals, and Small or Less Common Animals


There are many benefits to having a pet in the classroom. There are also concerns. You need the correct safety measures.

Potential Project Ideas and Research Questions

  • Do teachers understand the benefits of pets in the classroom? 
  • Would having pets in places inside the school but outside the classroom be beneficial? 
    • Principals office 
    • Entryway 
    • Cafeteria/ lunchroom 
    • Library 
    • Auditorium 
    • Hallways 
    • Office 
    • Nurse’s office 
    • Restroom 
    • Gym 
    • Science/ STEM lab 
    • Music room 
    • SPED room 
    • Art room 
    • Gifted room 
  •  What are the School district and building policies about pets in the classroom? 
  • Why the under-5 age restrictions? 
  • What habitat and food needs do common class pets have? 
  • What are some appropriate, common class pets?


Brous, M. T. (2010). Integrating Pet Therapy Into Daily School Life. Exceptional Parent, 40(5), 20-21.

 Burch, M. R. (2003). Wanted!: Animal Volunteers. New York: Howell Book House.

 Dancer, Ashlea, “Pets in the Classroom: The Difference They Can Make” (2012). Education Masters. Paper 252.

 Eidietis, L., Gray, S., Riggs, L., West, B., and Coffman, M. (2007). Goodbye Critter Jitters. Science and Children, 45(1), 37-41

 The Humane Society of the United States, (2009). “Is a Classroom Pet for You?”, Retrieved November 24, 2010 by the Author from

 Meadan, H. & Jegatheesan, B. (2010) Classroom Pets and Young Children: Supporting Early Development. Young Children 65(3), 70-77

Owens, R. & Williams, N., (1995). A New Breed of Teacher’s Pet. Instructor, 90(2), 48-51, 54-55 

Stone, B. (2010). Cockapoos in the Classroom: Providing Unique Learning Opportunities for Children With Autism. The Exceptional Parent, 40(5), 24-5.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Stuffed Pets in the Classroom: An Interview with Julia B.

By Mateo B.

My sister Julia is in 1st grade. In their classroom they have a stuffed animal named "Buster" that is their class pet. I found this interesting because several classrooms have stuffed animal pets. I want to figure out if having a stuffed animal pet will have the same benefits as having a live classroom pet. According to my sister it is enjoyable to get to take care of the classroom pet.

Activities Done by the Class with Buster

Buster gets to go home with a student for three days. The student is chosen at random (names are on popsicle sticks in a cup.) The student is expected to create a fun activity to do with Buster at home. The student takes pictures and writes up the experience in a journal. The student can also draw pictures in the journal.

Research Questions

From this interview I have several more questions that would be good to pursue.

  • Would having a stuffed class pet be similar in benefits to a live pet?
  • Is it as enjoyable to have a stuffed classroom pet?
  • Would students from the different grades respond similarly to a stuffed classroom pet?


Byrd, M. (2016) "Stuffed Pets in the Classroom: An Interview with Julia B." Personal Notes. October 20th, 2016.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Appreciation Game

By Aaron Byrd

I noticed that the students had a difficult time in the respect game. I realized that in large part this was because they were not attuned to recognizing situations to show respect. I adapted a couple of games/ice breaker activities to create a new game to help them get started with recognizing situation to show respect.

Phase 1

Phase one of the game is to get the kids together on a mat and get them working together. They sit in a circle and gently toss a small ball around to each other. The goal is to simply get them working together on a simple task. The goal for this part of the phase is to have them count how many times they can toss the ball around without dropping it. They will naturally try to improve their team score by working together better as a team. Let this proceed for 5-15 minutes.

During this phase you'll notice that the team goes through all of the team building stages. Sometimes people want to be outside of the rug/playing area, where they can be outside of the group (forming). Sometime people try to do different activities with the ball, like throw it up in the air to themselves or for anyone to get (storming.) Sometimes they'll throw or bat the ball to each other instead of toss the ball (norming.) Once the team has successfully started all gently tossing the ball to each other they'll start to get more and more catches and they will enjoy the activity and cheer each other on (performing.)

Phase 2

Now that the team has experienced the whole team building process in one short activity and has come together to successfully trust each other and perform as a team you can move on to phase 2. Phase 2 involves a different game but is played in a similar manner to the first. In this phase, when someone catches the ball they need to state something they appreciate about the person that just tossed the ball. They will find this very challenging. There are two rules. First, the statements must begin with "I appreciate..." Second, the statements must be about something the person has done, not about the way they look or things they have. As a coach your goal is to get them to relate actions in another person to feelings in response to those actions. The students will need help understanding the difference between "I appreciate" and "I like". It will help the team if you as a coach helps the students rephrase their words to fit the mold.

At the beginning of this round it will be a struggle for the students to come up with things they appreciate. This is because they do not yet have the skills to recognize situations where others positively influence them. Playing this game periodically will help the team learn and recognize what others do for them and provide the personal motivation to be more respectful.

Research Areas

There are several areas of research students can look at. It is helpful to explain these areas and help them understand the differences.


Periodicals are anything that is periodically created. Examples include:
  • Newspapers
  • Magazines
  • Blogs
  • Online News Outlets

  • Professionals and Personal Interviews

    These interviews can be professional sources who spend time researching or solving similar problems, or simply people who are involved with the issue somehow. Here are some examples for the Animal Adventures theme this year:
  • Animal Shelter Employees
  • Wildlife Management Professionals
  • Teachers at school
  • Government Biologists
  • Animal Therapists

  • Academic and Government Sources

    There are a wide range of Academic and Government sources, but these are often written at a very high technical level.
  • Government data websites
  • Government-produced technical materials. For example, the ERDC Library will have a wide range of subject areas.
  • Academic Thesis and Dissertations. These are usually found via school library websites or googling.
  • Academic Journals. Researchers will publish articles on their work in journals.

  • Books and Textbooks

    This category includes sources that cover topical areas that are produced once. Examples:
  • Books from a library, either school or city library
  • Textbooks that cover some particular topic
  • Monday, October 17, 2016


    By: Stella E

    One of our core values is to include everyone in all of our goals and acomplishments . For example, we make sure everyone has a role in the team.Some of these roles include, time keeper, team captain, programmer, runner,​ core values leader, project manager, etc. That was just an example there are many more ways to use inclusion.

    Review of "My First Guide To Robots" by Katherine Clay

    By Donovan B.


    This book is about robots. It talks about some of the history of robots and what they can do.

    History of Robots

    the word "Robot" was not created until 1920. In 1920 Karel Capek wrote about machines that acted like humans. He called them robota,which means “worker” in the Czech language.

    Factories began using robots in the 1960s. Unimate was a big robotic arm. The robot stacked metal plates in a car factory.

    Examples of Robots

    Today factory robots can do many more advanced jobs.Some robots use tiny”fingers” to tighten bolts and fix computer parts. Robots are not limited to factory work. Robots on farms can feed and milk cows. AgAnts are small robots that work in fields. Groups of AgAnts swarm together to pull out weeds.

    FUN FACT:A robot named Smart Restaurant chops onions and tomatoes. Then it helps build up to 360 burgers per hour.


    Robots are used for many jobs that they can do better than humans. For example, things that need to be done over and over again.


    Clay, K. (2015) "My Guide to Robots". Capstone Press, North Mankato, Minnesota

    Tuesday, October 11, 2016

    Example Citations and References

    Capturing references and appropriately citing them is very helpful in documenting that you actually studied a range of sources. Below is an example of this.


    I recently read a really cool book on robots. The author, Katherine Clay, did a great job a showing several jobs where robots can do dangerous jobs for people (Clay, 2014).

    I watched a cool video about robotic dogs washing dishes (CNN, 2016.) I bet my mom would love a robotic dog that could wash the dishes! I think elderly people and disabled people would really benefit from a robotic dog for washing the dishes.

    At school today I asked around to find a teacher who has a pet in his/her classroom. Mrs. Walsh has a pet fish. I asked her about the benefits and challenges of having a pet in the classroom. (Byrd, 2016)


    Clay, K., 2014. Robots in Risky Jobs on the Battlefield and Beyond. Capstone Press, North Mankato, MN.

    Byrd, M. 2016. “Notes from Personal Interview of Mrs. Walsh, a Teacher at Bowmar Elementary.”

    CNN. 2016. “Watch this robotic dog do the dishes.” Viewed on 11 October 2016.

    Monday, October 10, 2016

    System for Developing Respect

    By Aaron Byrd

    Respect for fellow team members is a common challenge that teams face. In FLL, respect for each other is a central part of Gracious Professionalism and Coopertition. It is also a metric directly measured as part of a competition. This is another area where having a process or system to develop respect will be a key part of your success as a team as well as a key part to your team having fun.

    I don't have all the answers or even a "best method" approach to developing respect. The team, though, has come up with a system that we are starting to use. We call it "The Respect Game." We employed a few ideas and concepts in the development of this method:
  • Focus on the positive, not the negative.
  • Respect is an interpersonal skill, meaning it involves more than one person. It can't be learned or practiced alone.
  • Use "Gamefication" to make a team game that involves a score and rules.
  • Just as a scoreboard in an athletic event helps everyone see where they stand and where you are headed, use a scoreboard for the game.
  • Use our recognition system to provide milestones and recognize group achievement.

  • For our respect game, here is how team members earn points:
    Showing Simple Respect: 1 point
  • Actively Listen – “So what I understand you are saying is…”
  • Encouragement – “You can do this.” “ You’ve got it.”
  • Congratulate – “That was awesome.” “Great Job.” “Well done.”
  • Be Helpful – “How could I help you?”
  • Say Thank You – “I appreciate that you took your time to help me.”

  • Giving Social Money: 2 points
  • Significance – “You’re Awesome!”
  • Likeable – “I really like what you did.” “I like how you phrased that.”
  • Competent – “You did a great job.” “What you made works really well.”

  • We will go over the game at the beginning of each meeting and the coaches will be the "refs." The team came up with a goal of 50 points as our first milestone. As we just started, I'll let you know how it goes!

    System for Managing Team Development

    By Aaron Byrd

    One of the key systems any team needs is to help the team members develop and understanding of the FLL Core Values, as well as individual team core values if you pick some. There are two areas that teams and coaches often need help in. The first is having an understanding of the team development process and the second is team members showing respect for each other.

    The first dynamic a coach and/or team captain needs to understand is the stages of team development. A good framework for this was created by Bruce Tuckman in 1965. Tuckman's model has the team going through four primary stages:

  • Forming
  • Storming
  • Norming
  • Performing

  • Understanding and being able to recognize these stages is extremely helpful if you also have a framework for what to do in these stages. The Boy Scouts of America have a great framework called the "Leading EDGE" that helps us as leaders know what to do. (Here is a good presentation on it.)

    Briefly, the forming stage occurs whenever team members are added or subtracted. It conceptually covers an in or out process. Unless you are losing people, it is a high-energy time when folks are excited. The leadership style best suited to this time is one where a lot of Explaining happens (the first E in EDGE). Spend time explaining how the team will work, what the team goals are, what communication process you'll use, etc.

    The storming stage is harder to manage as it is characterized by uncertainty in roles and details about what need to happen. Team members enthusiasm starts to drop. The leadership style best suited to this situation is a "Demonstrating" style (D in EDGE). Leaders are actively assigning roles, and helping folks see and understand how to behave and relate to one another by setting the example. The team enthusiasm is usually lowest as the storming process drags on. An effective leader will be watchful for low motivation and/or team members seeking an exit from the team and work to lift and keep spirits high.

    The norming stage is where team starts to come together and begins to put the individual parts together into a functioning whole. The norming stage is where folks have accepted the team roles and begin the function in their roles. They are not proficient at first but with practice and "Guiding" (D in EDGE) from the team leader they will become more capable and more able to effectively function as a whole. The leader needs to focus on helping the team members become effective by focusing on the details of the processes they are in charge of. As they see the team performing and accomplishing tasks together their enthusiasm will rise.

    The fourth stage is performing. This is the stage that is most enjoyable. The team is clicking and able to function well together. Spirits are high and folks are performing at their best. At this stage the leaders simply "Enable" (last E in EDGE) the team to keep performing - make sure resources are in place and upcoming needs are taken care of.

    The system for managing a team is really to observe the team for these dynamics - how well are they functioning together, how is their enthusiasm level, and then understand how to modify your leadership style for the situation. By understanding the stages of team development and the appropriate leadership style you'll be able to manage the process of getting the team to the performing stage where they are living the core have "have fun!"

    Goals are for Losers

    By Aaron Byrd

    Recently I read the book "How to Fail at Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life." by Scott Adams. One of this personal mottos is "Goals are for Losers. Systems are for Winners." While I don't agree with this 100%, there are several good application of this to an FLL robotics team.

    First, why are goals for losers? Inherent in setting of a goal is realizing that you have not succeeded. This emotionally puts you at a disadvantage. Clearly, you need a direction to aim for, but the process of traveling the path in the direction you want to go is the key, not where you finally end up. Applications of this are many - do you memorize math facts or learn how to use math to solve real-world problems? Do you get a team presentation done by yourself at the expense of learning how a team needs to come together to make a presentation?

    For example, you can set a goal as "Score 200 points on the robot game by December 1st." This is certainly a SMART goal: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. However, it doesn't actually get you to the goal - coming up with how to get there is a separate process. However, the point of FLL is to inspire students and to help them begin to develop the skills that will help them succeed in STEM fields. From that viewpoint, is having one brilliant programmer work on the robot the right choice, or have a process where everyone can build, program, debug, and learn how to build a system that works in the real world, taking an idea from concept to application? Clearly, the system that helps the team members grow personally is actually the real goal.

    What about the project? The real "goal" is to help the team members learn about the process of researching a field, narrowing down to a specific problem, creating a solution, taking that solution to a real-world application, if possible, and sharing your results. What is the system for that? Do you spend a few minutes each meeting talking about how they are doing at the research process? Where do they get stuck and struggle? How can they learn from each other and use each other's strengths to help them move forward? It is important to create a system that gets you where you want to go, not simply pick a goal and say "run!"

    Wednesday, October 5, 2016

    Pets in the Classroom, An Interview with Mrs. Walsh

    By Mateo B.

    This summer I did some research on pets in the classroom. I learned that having a pet in the class room is a good way to teach responsibility. Studies show that having a pet in the classroom might have a positive effect on grades. I interviewed one of the teachers at my school, Mrs. Walsh, who has a pet fish in her classroom. I talked to her and she said it is hard to keep the tank clean, and the fish has to go home on breaks and it is hard to chose someone to take the fish home. The children in the classroom take turns feeding the fish, and most of the kids enjoy it so that usually happens.


  • Students learn to take care of a pet
  • Students enjoy being in the classroom more

  • Challenges
  • Most students (but not all) do not want to do the unpleasant chores
  • Taking care of pets over weekends and extended breaks requires more logistics (finding people, ensuring feed/bedding/etc. supplies are delivered, etc.)

  • References

    Byrd, M. (2016) Personal Notes from Interview with Mrs. Walsh, September 27th, 2016.
    Pets in the Classroom (2016). "Benefits of Classroom Animals." Viewed October 18th, 2016.

    Monday, October 3, 2016

    Goals and Processes (or Systems)

    By Aaron Byrd

    One of the metrics used to judge the team is how well they A) have clear, achievable goals AND B) have a process to achieve those goals. This is part of the Core Values judging competition.

    Both of these can be somewhat problematic if not focused on at the beginning of the team season. Most teams fall into one of two "goal" categories: win at the competition, or, learn and have fun. Both of these are good but they are not specific enough.

    Defining goals is a challenge, both linguistically and mentally. Goals often fall into one of two general categories: goals about how you are and goals about what you do. Both of these kinds of goals should fit into the SMART framework: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-based.

    It often helps to write goals down to get your ideas going, even if they are rough and need refining. Then, you can compare against the SMART framework and revise your goal until it is satisfactory.

    Having goals, though, is still not enough. You need a process for achieving the goals. Hopefully you factored this into the goal when you were satisfied that it was Achievable.

    Another name for a process is a system. You need an ongoing set of tasks or skills to be practiced that, when taken over time, will lead you to your goal. However, this set of tasks still falls short of being a system that the team uses to accomplish its goal. For the team to accomplish its goals using a process or system, it needs a team leadership structure. For example, the Boy Scouts of America strongly encourage the use of the Patrol Method as a team leadership structure that allows the overall group to better accomplish its goals through a process that puts into place the tasks that need to be done. This is the pattern: Team GOALS -> Team PROCESS -> Team TASKS

    In our team we are using a team captain and committees as the process or system by which we develop and oversee the accomplishment of the tasks. So far we have a recognition committee, a core values committee, and a project committee, each with a committee chair. We will in the future form a robotics committee, but we haven't decided whether to keep programming and mechanical design as sub-committees or parallel committees.

    A key part of a committee is the purpose of the committee, which I'll cover in a future blog.

    Putting Active Listening to Work at Church

    By Donovan B.

    Active listening requires a messenger, a message, and a receiver. To be a good active listener, you must be respectful to other people's ideas.

    I use active listening at church during bible study. We listen to each other and read bible verses. We don't try to take over while someone is talking or demonstrating.

    Team Goals - Draft #1

    Improve technical communication skills, written and verbal.

    Practice being respectful, working as a team, ensuring all team members are included, and living the 7 habits.

    Share our knowledge with other teams.

    Boost morale, encourage personal and team growth, motivate team members, and help the team have fun

    Do awesome at the competitions

    A Problem With Birds

    By Tatum W.

    Today in robotics we had a guest speaker, Mrs. Dena Dickerson. She shared a problem about birds with us. There were some birds on lock and dam that were pooping all over it and ruining the concrete and machinery. We did not know the solution, so we shared the ideas we had to fix the problem. She said they were all great ideas and she was glad we could think of it right off of the top of our minds. The solution Mrs. Dickerson came up with, that worked well, was to use a border collie to scare off the birds. The dog is now an official federal employee and does a great job!