Introducing: Lights, Science, ACTION!


Somewhere during the STEAM Team madness, I got an email. Local non-profit Light House Studio had an idea for a workshop that would be perfect for our tech-savvy, ever curious scientists. Would I like a STEAM Team project about movie making and science?

Nope. No thanks. I don’t want this to be a part of STEAM Team.

Because it is WAY. TOO. COOL.

This idea doesn’t deserve to be a short project tacked onto another club. This spectacular combination of high tech equipment and old fashioned hands-in-the-dirt activities deserves its own spotlight. Luckily, LightHouse agreed – and Lights, Science, ACTION! was born.

During Lights, Science, ACTION!’s eight week session, students are learning the ins and outs of basic filmmaking, including types of shots, types of cameras, how to run sound equipment, film set lingo, and interviewing and directing techniques. They are getting hands-on experience with state-of-the-art film and sound equipment, along with different types of filmmaking like stop-motion, claymation, and special effects. They are getting a peek behind the scenes of the editing process, learning the basics of layering video and sound, editing scenes to get the very best result, and adding special features like transitions and effects. And Light House Studio’s dedicated, experienced, patient mentors are with them every step of the way, providing individualized attention and instruction to help each child get the most out of the time behind the lens.

After our initial filmmaking workshops, the science experiments began. Each week, a small group of students gets to act as the documentary crew while the rest of the group participates in a short science lesson and experiment. The group shares stories and ideas about natural science while the crew records the action, ambiance, and interviews. All of the footage is edited and combined by the experts at Light House into a final project, which we will premiere on our final meeting in May.


Whether we’re creating art from nature, digging (and chewing) in the garden, or studying animal behaviors, our science experiments help students to make observations and ask critical questions about the world around them. Together with our parent and community volunteers (pop quiz – can you spot Mr. Fitz in these photos?)  we are working on being more inquisitive, curious, and creative; all while working towards teamwork and a growth mindset.

As an added bonus, the filmmaking aspect of the club helps students to see their world through a different lens (da-dum-ching – see what I did there?). They have to answer new questions like, what will a viewer need to know to understand this experiment, without having heard the directions? Which students are focused enough to appear on film? Does this shot show what our group is all about? These questions force students to walk in a teacher’s shoes for an hour or two – and it is both hilarious and humbling to hear their reactions about how difficult it can be.

So much of students’ time in school is spent working quietly and independently towards the goal of a good grade on a test or assignment. These skills are essential for students to develop, but they’re not the only skills needed for a well-rounded, successful, and happy child. With so many demands and limitations placed on teachers, even Johnson’s exemplary staff can’t always get kids learning through moving, shaking, and making.  Thanks to the generosity and expertise of the Light House Studio team, the Learning Leopard Library can provide third and fourth grade students with rich, engaging, hands-on experiences that allow them to learn at their own speed, in their own way. Students are transformed when they are allowed to take an active role in their own learning – and whether they’re behind the camera or up in a tree, students on the Lights, Science, ACTION! team are exploring, growing, and making connections in a way that they won’t soon forget.

Keep your eyes on this space for more news and photos from Lights, Science, ACTION! This program will continue after school in the library through mid-May.

None of these creative, dirty, wonderful experiences without the generous help of Light House Studio. Thanks to a generous grant from the Prana Fund, Light House offered this program to us at no cost, and student club members don’t have to pay a cent to participate. I love getting to spend this special time in nature with Johnson students, and am so grateful to Light House Studio for making it possible. You may remember Light House Studio from their fantastic KickStarter video for Books on Bikes in 2014. LightHouse, founded in 1999, is on a mission:

“Light House brings young people together to make movies. We are a nonprofit filmmaking center dedicated to helping students develop their vision and show their work. We believe in the importance of collaboration and community, the creativity of young minds, and the lasting benefits of our hands-on mentor-based approach to teaching the art of filmmaking.”

Now that’s a mission I think we can all get behind. Find out more about Light House Studio including their locations, wonderful staff, and more ways that they make an impact in Charlottesville by visiting their website here

This Month in Photos: March 2016


Spring is officially here, bringing with it all of the excitement of beautiful weather, bright flowers, and fun activities! Johnson is a flurry of excitement these days, and it’s all a librarian can do to keep up. March and April have been busy busy busy, and I’m happy to share a snapshot of some of the great things we’re sharing with your students.

March brought lots of excitement, with the Virginia Festival of the Book bringing some truly awesome visiting authors our way. Kevin Sherry, Timothy Young, and Julianna Morgan (with her rescue dog, Sashi) came to Johnson to share their books, while Johnson’s second and third grade students took the show on the road. We met with all of the second and third grade students in the city at St. Anne’s-Belfield to see Jon Scieszka and Steven Weinberg, authors of the mega-popular books The Stinky Cheese Man and Egg Egg Egg!, among many others. Scieszka and Weinberg did not disappoint their fans, relaying icky sticky stories and delivering jokes like a weathered comedy team. Students loved hearing about Scieszka’s childhood road trips with his brothers (spoiler alert: lots of carsickness involved) and getting a sneak peek at Weinberg’s new book, You Must be This Tall. Special thanks to St. Anne’s-Belfield for welcoming us to their campus for this special event, and to the Virginia Festival of the Book for all of their hard work in arranging these unique literary experiences.

You can read more about the Festival of the Book events at Johnson here.

Following our author visits, many classes were so inspired and excited that they felt the need to say thanks. Above are two thank you cards by Johnson kindergarteners for author Kevin Sherry. These adorable cards were inspired by Sherry’s book, I’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean, which hasn’t stayed in the library for more than a few hours all month!

Fourth grade employees have really been proving their worth recently, completing more and more complicated library work during their lunch and recess shifts. Each day’s employees have different jobs – on Thursdays and Fridays you will find fourth graders checking in books, shelving, and delivering resources to teachers around the school, while Monday and Tuesday’s workers will monitor kindergarten and first grade classes, lending an extra hand to students in need. Above, employees show off their training with a first grade class; the first setting up the books for a first grade checkout period, and the next spending some special time reading with a younger buddy.

I love seeing the fourth graders take ownership in the library, and it has been so much fun to watch their library confidence and knowledge grow. Many are requesting extra shifts, extra responsibilities, and more extensive training. What started out as a small volunteer idea has now become one of the best parts of my day. Walker has some truly dedicated librarians coming up!

Speaking of mentors and helpers, have you seen the amazing videos that Johnson second graders created for their first grade buddies? I challenged second graders to think about the big changes that happen between first and second grade, and to create an instructional video to help first graders prepare for their upcoming transition. Second graders planned, wrote, shot, and edited the videos themselves (with just a little bit of help).

When the videos were finally finished, each second grade class hosted a special event for their first grade buddies, complete with a world premiere of their movies and a guided tour of all of the library’s best spots. You can learn more about this event and watch the videos here.

The Famous American Living Museum is always one of my favorite events of the year, and the fourth grade team knocked it out of the park this month! From Andy Warhol to the President and First Lady, Johnson’s fourth graders showed off their hard work and research skills with multi-faceted, engaging presentations about their Famous Americans. Posters, slideshows, monologues, costumes… you name it, our Museum had it. The traffic was heavy, but the exhibitions were worth the wait! Follow the link to view the PTO’s awesome blog post about the Famous American Living Museum.

Robotics, engineering, and Making are still front and center in the Learning Leopard Library, and it is amazing to see all of the things that our students can create. I can’t take any credit for the awesome light-up robot above, made only from tin foil, tape, and a watch battery – that was all HackMaster Jones! As an ITRT, Mr. Jones visits weekly with fourth grade classes to work on a STEAM and computer science curriculum. Their projects include amazing topics like Lego Robotics, circuits, MakeyMakey computer programming, Scratch, and more. I love my time meeting with Mr. Jones each week and hearing about all of the amazing things that our students are creating.


Fourth graders aren’t the only one catching the Maker spirit. This Maker project was a creative gift from a growing mover and shaker! Second grader Alexis re-purposed items from around her house to turn them into a creative project. The end product is a fun and imaginative farm that makes me smile every time I look at it. Way to go, Alexis! You’re a true Maker!


The beautiful weather has drawn us outside to talk about all things green and growing. Johnson students are so lucky to have our beautiful City Schoolyard Garden, and we love to peek at all of the plants growing in their flower beds. Above, pre-school makes observations about what they see, after reading a garden story about seeds and plants.

Pre-K isn’t just talking about growing.. we’re making things grow, too! This week, we read about Jack’s beanstalk and tried to build one of our own. In the story, the beanstalk is strong enough to carry Jack, the hen, the giant, and the giant’s wife… that is one sturdy structure! We experimented with what could make our beanstalk strong enough to stand, even with the giant making it shake. We tried lots of different bases and patterns to figure out, how can we make our beanstalk taller and stronger?

STEAM doesn’t have to involve fancy tools or computer coding. Sometimes it’s as simple as figuring out how things work, and then tweaking them to make them even better!

Lights, Science, ACTION! is still going strong on Thursday afternoons in the library. With help from our partners LightHouse Studio, students have been getting their feet wet in filmmaking AND their hands dirty in the garden. We are having a blast learning about camera and editing equipment and all of the work that goes into making a movie. And to put our new information to work, teams get to film our science experiments, documentary-style. On our last week in May, we will premiere the full film. I can’t wait!

Kindergarten is lucky enough to spend some quality time with the sisters of the Pi Beta Phi service sorority from the University of Virginia. Pi Beta Phi selected Johnson as the recipient of their CAR program (Champions Are Readers), which means that they come in every week to share their love of books with us. These ladies get cheers from the group ever week! You can learn more about our partnership with Pi Beta Phi here.


Stop by the library soon to check out the next teacher featured on our Mustache board (hint.. he’s hiding somewhere behind that large paper mustache…) and see what he’s reading!

There are LOTS of exciting events coming up at Johnson, including the Principal Search Forum THIS FRIDAY and the PTO Spring Picnic next week! Don’t miss out on any of the fun – keep track of all of the events by following the Johnson Elementary School PTO on Facebook. Parents can also sign up to receive convenient PTO Newsletters in their email each week to stay on top of all of Johnson’s news.

See you all next week at the PTO Spring Picnic!

Student Book Review: Rachel’s review of Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen




by Gary Paulsen

I really liked the book Hatchet because of all of the exciting animals.Brian Robeson is traveling to see his father when the single engine plane in which he is flying crashes in the canadian wilderness.He learns to survive with just a hatchet and his wits.During the fifty-four days he spends alone,he will uncover a new person within himself.

This Student Book Review was written by Rachel, a Johnson Elementary School student, and shared with the library via Google Docs. Rachel drafted and typed the book review independently. Rachel is in the third grade.

World Premiere: Second Grade Classes present, Take it From a Second Grader


Over the past few months, Johnson second graders have been working even harder than usual. These students have stepped out of their comfort zone to become role models, mentors, and teachers to a few lucky first graders – and I couldn’t be prouder.

The videos embedded below were designed, scripted, shot, and “edited” by second grade students (with just a little help from a certain librarian). I challenged them to remember what it felt like to be a first grader getting ready for second grade, on the cusp of new independence and academic rigor. What advice did they wish that they had had as a new second grader? What wisdom have they gathered during their time in the second grade? Where are all of the Iron Man books?! With these questions in mind, we set about brainstorming, mapping, and shooting our movies.

As part of the challenge, I promised that the class with the best video would be published to our library’s YouTube channel. But after watching all three, there was no way that I could choose. You can find the links to all three videos below!

As second graders have learned more about video recording and editing, they have also been honing their teaching skills. This week, they came to the library during first graders’ scheduled library time and each spent 30 minutes coaching a first grade buddy in all things second grade checkout. This special time together included checkout tips and tricks, a special screening of their class movie, and guided tours of the library’s collection.


Second graders rose to the occasion with excellent behavior and kind, patient teaching far beyond their years. They took their responsibility to the younger students seriously, and showed their pride, ownership, and understanding of our library. First graders not only left better understanding what library looks like as a second grader, but also feeling inspired and excited by how much their older mentors cared about them, about our library, and about the Johnson community.

Second grade classes, you should be so proud of all of your hard work on this special project! You can watch the videos on our library YouTube Channel, or via the links below. Great work, second grade!

Festival of the Book: Visiting Authors Kevin Sherry, Timothy Young, and Juliana Morgan


When I moved to Charlottesville, I had no idea that it was home to the Virginia Festival of the Book, an annual celebration of all things literature. Through my years here I have attended sessions by authors and illustrators, discussed childrens’ books and non-fiction texts, heard authors read their own work and watched graphic novel artists create magic before a crowd. The Festival of the Book is a treasure trove for book lovers of all ages and types, and (astoundingly!), many of the events are free to the public.

Just in case that wasn’t enough, the Festival of the Book also works closely with Charlottesville City Schools and Albemarle County Public Schools to bring the magic of the Festival of the Book to our students. This year, hard working Festival organizers began the planning process back in November, working to provide schools with one-of-a-kind author experiences. And their hard work paid off!

First, we had a visit from Kevin Sherry, author of the hilarious and quirky favorites I’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean and The Yeti Files, among others. I love sharing Mr. Sherry’s books with students because they get to laugh, learn, and participate in the story with me. They were thrilled as he hopped onto the stage, guitar in hand, wearing a giant bear head – and only got more excited when he started sharing bear knock-knock jokes!

With an intro like that, the auditorium was hanging on his every word. Mr. Sherry talked to us about why he writes, how he became an author, and some of his favorite things growing up that helped him to create his hilarious and quirky stories.

After we learned more about him, Mr. Sherry read some of his stories to us. These included a Johnson favorite, and the one that got the most audience participation – I’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean!

We even got a sneak peek into his notebook, which included funny thoughts, ideas for new books, sketches, and all sorts of exciting author things.

Next, Mr. Sherry talked us through the writing and editing process for his awesome graphic novel, The Yeti Files. Leading yeti Blizz Richards didn’t start out as a vest wearing, exploring yeti hero – in fact, in the beginning, he was Betty the Yeti! But through the process of being edited and published, Mr. Sherry reinvented and reimagined the character until he became the Bliz we know and love. To celebrate all things Yeti, Mr. Sherry donned a yeti costume ended the presentation with a show-stopping yeti song.


We wrapped things up with some student questions. The group was curious about Mr. Sherry’s books, his inspiration, and, of course, his guitar! The group was so engaged and excited about his visit. They’re still buzzing about the yeti that sang them songs. I’m dying over the mesmerized little faces in the photo below.


Later that day it was time to greet our next visiting author, the wonderful Timothy Young. Mr. Young’s books seem to me like the perfect foray into a child’s mind – complete with mystery boxes, picture book tantrums, and penguin facts. Between his fun, silly stories and his beautiful illustrations, the students loved Timothy Young and his stories right away.

Mr. Young shared some of his favorites with us, including Do Not Open the Box, I Hate Picture Books, and zombie-loving crowd favorite They’re Coming. (The photo below was snapped during They’re Coming – only a spooky but hilarious zombie and creepy crawly story could get faces like that!)


Students and teachers both loved Mr. Young’s presentation because of his mix of stories, jokes, fun details, and information about what it’s like to be an author and an illustrator. The students were so impressed when they learned that the intricate drawings were done by Mr. Young himself, and he inspired many budding artists.

In case that wasn’t enough, Mr. Young left us with a beautiful, personalized piece of artwork to hang in our library! I was a little bit excited about it, in case you can’t tell.


On Friday morning, we had one last visitor – or, should I say, two. Author Juliana Morgan came to speak and brought the star of many of her stories, her rescue dog, Sashi.


Juliana was so inspired by Sashi that she became an author to share her story. Now, Juliana and Sashi visit schools to talk about the special relationships between dogs and their humans, how humans can make animals feel comfortable and loved, and all of the wonderful things that can come along when you choose to rescue an animal.

As an animal lover, I was so excited to see Ms. Morgan and meet Sashi in person. And I wasn’t the only one! When word spread that a dog was visiting, the auditorium filled up – some students had to pull up chairs behind the back row. Ms. Morgan helped us to sit quietly and explained the importance of using self control to help Sashi to feel safe. Despite the large number of students in the audiorium, Sashi sat perched happily on Ms. Morgan’s lap for the whole hour – Ms. Morgan told me later that that was because our crowd was so respectful during her presentation.


Students had lots of questions for Ms. Morgan and Sashi, wondering about her eating and sleeping habits, their school visits, and about how they found each other. My favorite question came from a first grader – “Does your dog lick?” Spoiler alert – she does!

Thank you so much to the hard working crew that puts together the Virginia Festival of the Book each year – you knocked it out the park again for 2016! These events are so special to our students, and they leave feeling so inspired and excited.

And thank you to Kevin Sherry, Timothy Young, and Juliana Morgan for traveling to Johnson to share your talents with us. You’ve always got fans in Charlottesville!



STEAM Team: Thank You


Interested in enrolling your child in STEAM Team? We’ll be hosting another session for rising fourth graders in the fall. Keep your eye on the blog.

It’s been awhile since we’ve caught up with the Johnson STEAM Team! Have you been wondering what we’re up to??

We started our session back in February by talking about a growth mindset, and then putting that talk to action by designing, building, fixing, and making LOTS of mistakes with our STEAM toys. See even more photos here.



From there, our team took off with lessons about thrust and propulsion, aerodynamics, structures, gravity, shapes, physics… you name it. With the help of our volunteers from the University of Virginia’s Alpha Omega Epsilon, a professional and social sorority composed of female engineering and technical science students,we built, designed, questioned, and shared a whole lot of very happy failures. I won’t give all of the secrets away to keep the surprise for future STEAMers. Instead, I’ll let the photos do the talking.


But the real treat was our amazing crash course in all things awesome science from Dr. H – AKA Dr. Doug Himberger, professor of Physics and Business at Piedmont Valley Community College. Dr. Himberger spent three weeks with the STEAM Team teaching us about shapes, structures, explosions, and everything in between. Dr. H. is more than just a brilliant, creative, and extraordinarily successful scientist and businessman – he is also a passionate, patient, and caring teacher. From the moment he stepped in the door, the STEAM Team was transfixed. (The intimidating lab coat didn’t hurt.)








Our grand finale came at our last meeting, when we put our STEAM skills to the test. This was one of the most exciting and rewarding moments that I have shared with students to date. You can see the pride coming out of my ears in the photo below. The sound of splintering popsicle sticks will forever make me smile.


Made of popsicle sticks and wood glue, these pieces weighed no more than a few ounces – and our strongest structure held 24 pounds. And these kids are TEN YEARS OLD. These mini-scientists are going to change the world someday.

Library magic like this takes a village. I’ve got a lot of people to thank. Hold on to your hats!

To the generous contributors that made this possible via your donations to our library via DonorsChoose or other avenues, I can’t thank you enough. The toys, tools, and supplies that we have been given are a huge asset to our program. The countless parent inquiries and requests that I have received ensure that STEAM Team will be a lasting tradition at Johnson far into the future. A happy parent sent me this:

“I watched each of these children yesterday come out of
STEAM team. They are EXCITED about LEARNING.
YOU DID THIS! […] Thank you.”

That’s right, my friends. You did this. Thank you.

To the bright, kind, and lovely women of Alpha Omega Epsilon, thank you for sharing your time and experience with us. We couldn’t have done this without you. You make me proud, ladies – and you inspire some of the people I love the most. Thanks for being great.

Dr. H, thank you for donating your time and your passion to the world’s tiniest masterminds. You put a whole new world within our reach, and it is an experience that these incredibly lucky children will never forget.

STEAM Team, thank you for showing me how exciting and wonderful science can be.

Bored now that STEAM Team has come to a close? Not to worry! The Learning Leopard Library’s newest after school adventure, Lights, Science, ACTION!, begins Thursday, March 17th. Find out more.

Family Connection: Resources for Talking to your Child about the 2016 Presidential Election


2016 is an election year. I thought I’d let you know, just in case you haven’t heard 😉

It’s no secret that the upcoming presidential election is dominating the media. From the strongly worded nightly news to the boldly printed newspaper headlines, we are constantly surrounded by the hyperbolic report of what’s to come; criticism, name calling, and aggressive drama are everywhere you turn. And odds are, your kids are hearing it too. Elections, democracy, and what it means to be president are all topics that students cover in elementary school, but it can be difficult to explain an election of this magnitude. And when you add in confusing language, mudslinging ads, and wild antics, it’s not always an easy conversation.

The point of this conversation isn’t to inspire a new generations of Republicans or Democrats – it’s simply to teach students about their government by letting them see democracy in action. Whatever your political affiliation, it’s important to let your child know that you take your civic responsibility seriously – and that someday, they will have the privilege of shaping the world with their vote. There’s no need to discuss parties or to share video footage of recent debates (eh hem, I personally suggest that you skip that one); but taking the opportunity to share this monumental moment in history with your student can bring you closer, provide a great opportunity for discussion, and plant a seed for community and democratic involvement.

With the overall tone of this election so far, it’s not a surprise that I struggled to find kid-friendly resources for teaching about the 2016 Presidential election. Media coverage of an election can be scary and overwhelming for a child – I was on the hunt for fun, friendly, simple resources designed just for kiddos. From books to digital games, consider using the resources listed below to open a dialogue with your child about elections, democracy, and government. These lists include fun and engaging books curated specifically for children that will allow you to broach the subject of voting and leadership in a casual way.

Screen Shot 2016-03-13 at 6.34.26 PM.png’s We Vote for These! Great Books That Get Kids Election Ready and Civics-Savvy includes not only a thorough list of resources organized by age, but also great conversation starters and activities that you can try at home to really spark your child’s curiosity. From counting bumper stickers and yard signs to discuss community involvement to letting each member of the household play President for the day, this fun article is sure to get your family talking politics in a positive way.

EducationWorld offers a variety of resources in their list, Use children’s books to teach about elections: Ten books get our vote! This list provides both fiction and nonfiction resources for children aged 4-12. Explore the silly side of an election with Duck for President, share the great responsibility of democracy with The Day Gogo Went to Vote, or hook your fact-obsessed nonfiction reader with Presidential Elections and Other Cool Facts. Whatever title you choose, you can’t go wrong with the titles on this carefully curated list.

Targeted towards students in grades 3-5, Scholastic’s Books for Teaching about Elections includes a solid list of teacher-approved resources that are sure to get your student engaged. The heading Using These Books in the Classroom might seem intimidating, but you can find any of these books at your local library and enjoy them from the comfort of your own couch – no hall pass required!

Once you’ve read a few great stories, log on to check out some of these great digital resources:

No matter who you vote for in November, I hope you’ll take this opportunity to share the excitement of this uniquely American process with your family. Get readin’, chattin’, and votin’, my fellow Americans!

Student Book Review: Dylan’s review of Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen


Image via


by Gary Paulsen

You should definitely read Hatchet.It is about a boy named Brian Robeson who gets stranded on a deserted island with only a hatchet.He encounters a bear, skunk and porcupine. He survives by eating only birds that he calls fool birds and rabbits. Sometimes he hates it because he gets hurt and does dumb things. Sometimes he loves it because he figures out how to do new things.

This Student Book Review was written by Dylan, a Johnson Elementary School student. Dylan is in the third grade.

Thank you, Johnson PTO!


The times, they are a changin’. And I was shocked to see just how fast when I introduced a checkout system on a Chromebase computer earlier this year, which needed to be operated by a mouse. Students of all grades struggled with how to hold the mouse, click the button, hold the cursor still, and scroll to the bottom of the page. Can you believe that in the short time since touch screens and laptops have been invented, they’ve already become so mainstream that many children have never used a mouse?

Our old checkout system was doing its best, but the mouse issues were causing traffic jams, frustrated students, and even more frustrated librarians and library helpers. It was easy to see… we needed help. We needed a hero!

Luckily, Johnson Elementary School has a pretty incredible PTO.


Give a warm welcome and a big cheer to our brand new, state-of-the-art touch screen checkout computer. With incredible accuracy and speedy internet, this baby makes checkout with all grades a breeze. Compliments keep rolling in from students, staff, and visitors alike on our beautiful new piece of equipment. And we couldn’t’ have done it without an enrichment grant from the Johnson PTO!


Thanks to this generous gift from the Johnson Elementary School PTO, our library checkout is faster, easier, and more fun. This puts more smiles onto the faces of our readers and more books into the hands of our students.


Thank you so much to the Johnson Elementary School PTO for providing this generous gift to our library! We are so lucky to have you.