Lights, Science, ACTION!: Thank You


When we last left Lights, Science, ACTION!, the crew was getting their hands dirty (both literally and physically) with allllllll the science. From filmmaking to seed planting, we were knee deep in exciting, real-world science experiences, and loving every minute of it!

In case you missed it, Lights, Science, ACTION! is a club offered by the Learning Leopard Library in collaboration with local non-profit organization Light House Studio. Light House Studio’s mission is to “bring young people together to make movies.” From their website:

“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.”

Light House Studio brought their collaboration, mentorship, creativity, and joy for filmmaking to Lights, Science, ACTION!, and the results were incredible. You can read more about our experiences and see photos of the team in action here.

I’m so excited this morning to share the final result of eight weeks of hard work. Each short video encompasses one subject – watch them together, separately, in order, whatever you want. While you watch, keep in mind that the filming, interviewing, and many of the editing decisions were completed by third and fourth grade students, thanks to the mentorship from the Light House Studio team.

Animation Day at Johnson from Light House Studio on Vimeo.

Leaf Rubbings from Light House Studio on Vimeo.

The Johnson Garden from Light House Studio on Vimeo.

Camouflage Creatures from Light House Studio on Vimeo.

If you’d like to share these awesome videos, follow the link at the bottom of the post to view the full album and find links for sharing. 

I was so impressed with the quality of work from our student filmmakers – and with the incredibly talented Light House Studio film team that put it all together. It made me so proud to see the student excitement and passion captured on film – is there any better commercial for science, filmmaking, and after school programming? But my favorite part was the quirky humor and silliness that shines through. Even as dedicated scientists and filmmakers, this group had a creative, fun-loving feel and a delightfully wacky sense of humor that made every meeting more fun than the last. I hope that you can feel that lovely eccentricity while you watch.

As I progress through my career in teaching and librarianship, I am starting to feel more like a veteran; and yet, my capacity to learn from my experiences keeps growing and growing. The more time I spend with students, the more I learn about the big plans they have for the world around them. My experience with Light House Studio and the Lights, Science, ACTION! group gives me yet another reason to look forward to the future – if these kids have anything to do with it, this world is going to be a truly weird and wonderful place.

To the patient, dedicated, and talented Light House Studio -thank you so much for everything. You brought so much more than just camera equipment to Johnson. We adore you! None of these creative, dirty, wonderful experiences without your help.

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.

Want to know more?

 View the full album of Lights, Science, ACTION! videos on Vimeo here.

Watch more Light House Studio videos on their Vimeo here. 

Learn more about Light House Studio and their amazing community work 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!

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.

This Month in Photos: January 2016


January has been one wild month. Robots, dogs, mustaches… we’ve seen it all. I don’t think I can even begin to describe this one well enough… so I’ll let the pictures do all the talking! Hold on tight…

It was a warm Fitz-welcome back from winter break with my new name all over the library to help remind students of the change. I got married in November and Miss Messham is so 2015. My new name is Sarah FitzHenry, but I’m inviting my Johnson family to call me Ms. Fitz. I have a new email address to match the new moniker – you can now reach me at

When we last left our third and fourth graders, they were working on our 2015 Hack-a-Thon and honing their computer programming skills. I was thrilled when many students rushed into the library the first day back from break to tell me how much they had coded over their vacation. Some even completed the courses at! Did your student use any of the digital resources mentioned in this post over the break? If so, brag about them in the comments!

No warm-ups or slow starts here – we didn’t waste a minute getting back into reading. From pre-k to fourth grade and everyone in between, we were all happy to be reading, learning, and sharing our love for literacy in the Learning Leopard Library. As you can see, Johnson students aren’t exactly shy about using their library resources and sharing their favorite books. On the right, a third grade student shares her most recent checkout with a very lucky Lego man.


Students aren’t the only readers at Johnson. In our new I Mustache You… display, teachers get the chance to share their most recent read with the school. This week Mrs. Kamide rocks the ‘stache and tells us about the title she’s into right now.


In Learning Leopard Library tradition, Johnson third graders are starting off the new year with the reference tool tango. To help them tackle this tricky SOL, we go over each reference tool in detail and get to know it in a unique and engaging way, like dictionary races and almanac scavenger hunts. These fun, low-pressure activities allow students to learn the tools inside and out in a way that is both fun and memorable. Above, third graders use thesauruses to re-write a silly short story – think Mad Libs crossed with English class. But funnier!

IMG_4650 (2)

Did you hear the one about the dog in the library??? Earlier this month, Luna the Therapy Dog came to visit Johnson’s kindergarten and first graders, and we had a barking good time. Read all about Luna’s visit – and see a short video of her presentation with her owner and handler, Stacy Diaz – here.

Have you heard? The library is hiring! Earlier this year, I quietly placed Help Wanted posters in the fourth grade classrooms. Students who took the initiative to ask were given a job application, complete with essays, scheduling requests, and character references. From there, applicants underwent a rigorous interview process (in the middle, you can see that this particular interview happened to fall on pajama day – I don’t normally interview in a tiger-striped onesie…) and only the most prepared, determined, and hard-working students were chosen. On the right, you can see fourth grade applicants checking the posted Hired list to find their names. Spoiler alert – every student that interviewed was hired – but it was only because they all did such an excellent job! I was blown away by how prepared, polished, and professional my applicants were. Special thank you to Chase and Sahana, my awesome Safety Patrol workers, who helped me to carry out the interviews (when you want the best results, you break out the big guns)!

Their start dates have been pushed back due to snow, but our new twelve-member team should begin their training next week. They’ll begin with shelving graphic novels and fiction chapter books, as well as helping younger students to find books that are a good fit and check them out independently. I love sharing the library with students, and giving them ownership in the space. I can’t wait to see what they can do – expect updates on this awesome team in the future!

Speaking of Chase and Sahana, these two have really stepped up their library game. This team is such an excellent help in the morning that they are now beginning to take on more challenging jobs, like cataloging, labeling, and processing new materials.

If you follow our library on Facebook, you know that we have recently launched a brand new program in the Learning Leopard Library – a MakerSpace! MakerSpaces are designed to get students dreaming, designing, and out of their comfort zone making anything and everything. Cardboard and duct tape race car course? Awesome. Magnatile neighborhood? Sounds great. 3-D printed jewelry? Bring it on! Johnson’s resident STEAM expert (and past HackMaster) Andy Jones helped me to transform a quiet corner of the library into a state-of-the-art MakerSpace and engineering corner thanks to the tools from our recent DonorsChoose fundraiser, the results from our Alcoa Grant, and a few generous gifts from Charlottesville City Schools. Along with a huge selection of beautiful, educational, and oh-so-enticing engineering toys, Johnson is now the home to a brand new Silhouette Die-Cut machine and a 3-D printer. I’ll be working with teachers soon to introduce them to these materials and showcase how they can integrate them into their curriculum. I can’t wait to show you all of the amazing things our students can do with these new materials!

Speaking of engineering and STEAM, I’ve been testing out our engineering toy selection on some very happy fourth grade guinea pigs. From Cool Circuits to K’nex, it’s been so much fun watching fourth graders use their imaginations and learn through play in the library. This is just a small taste of what the Johnson STEAM Team will be working on during our Friday after school meetings. Learn more about the STEAM Team here. If you’re interested in registering your child, let me know ASAP – we have four more spots remaining for this session.

Even with the snow days, it has been a busy and exciting month in the Learning Leopard Library. And with STEAM Team starting up, the Festival of the Book on the horizon, and our new MakerSpace ready to go.. something tells the that February is going to be just as good!

Stay warm and dry out there! See you soon!


Coming Soon: Johnson STEAM Team!


Fourth grade parents, heads up! This afternoon, STEAM Team flyers will be coming home with your students. The first session will only be open to fourth graders, but the plan is to open the club to younger grades soon. Check out an electronic version of the flyer below for details. Return your completed flyer to the library by Monday, January 18!Screenshot 2016-01-13 at 2.07.00 PM

Send any questions my way at See you there, engineers!

Have you heard about our awesome new engineering club, the Johnson STEAM Team? We’ll be buildin’, makin’, movin’, and shakin’ thanks to your awesome donations through DonorsChoose. Check out the page for the project here

NBC29 visits Johnson’s 2015 Hack-a-Thon


This morning, reporters from NBC29 stopped by the Learning Leopard Library to find out all about our Hack-a-Thon. They crashed a third grade Choose Your Own Adventure Code Party, where third graders get to choose their mission for the day – code your Minecraft characters to build houses? Program your own Flappy Bird game? Write your own digital Star Wars story using Blockly Java Script?

NBC29 took a tour of our library and the digital MakerSpace that we have been creating for our coding and programming time. After filming third graders as they worked, the reporters even interviewed a couple of hard-working pint-sized programmers about our challenge.

Reporters asked students what they like about coding, whether it feels like homework, and why they want to learn to code. Brandon and Graham rocked the house and weren’t nervous at all, even in front of the cameras!


Great work to the Johnson Leopards that have been working so hard to reach our 100 hour goal (we just reached 94 hours!). Thank you NBC29 for coming to talk to us and spreading the word about the Hour of Code and computer programming in elementary schools!

Keep an eye out for our NBC29 story tomorrow on the morning news. If you miss it, check back here for the link after it goes live online.

Making steps with MakerSpace and MakerStudio


Earlier this year, Johnson was chosen by the University of Virginia to receive a grant through ALCOA to bring new and exciting technology into our library. A new software is being designed and beta tested for student use, and UVA wanted us to be a part of its creation. (Um, sign me up please!) After a series of meetings, I was able to create custom profiles for a small group of students to get them logged in, exploring, and learning about the digital maker movement.

I asked them, “Would you like to skip recess in order to be a part of a team to beta test new groundbreaking software for students everywhere?” Can you guess what they said?


MakerStudio (#makerstudio) is an online program that provides a blank canvas for users to create and explore. Using a wide variety of tools, users can tell their stories in vivid color through free design or a selection of ready-to-use shapes and clipart. They can add text, layers, shapes, or use mathematical tools to enhance their art. More experienced users can toggle one of the advanced options to create a document specially designed to include a 3-D popup, link to a Silhouette die-cutting machine, or make scanned artwork come to life. The options with MakerStudio are limitless – and we have been chosen to test it out!


The first time we logged this group into the program, Miss Esposito and I had one rule – we have no rules. We set the group loose without any guidelines, directions, or pointers. When they asked questions, we pushed them to find the answers themselves. When they got frustrated, we asked then to retrace their steps and try again. This, my friends, is Making at its best – trying, failing, trying again, and learning from your mistakes. It was amazing to watch them build, delete, rebuild, and grin!

While they were working, the group collected data on any “bugs” or issues that they found in the program. Today, we met with one of the members of the UVA team to show off what we’ve learned, and the group reported the bugs that they had found. Our UVA contact said that she would report the bugs to the software development team and that thanks to Johnson’s students, these issues would be resolved when the software launches live! Another great example of Making in action – using the knowledge and experience you gained from your mistakes to help others succeed.


Kudos to our MakerStudio Student Team! Stay tuned for more updates on our #makerstudio experience with the University of Virginia.