Ashley Johnson, Ph.D.

February 24, 2014
by Communications Office

Teacher. Scientist. Advisor. Innovator. Leader. Coach. Whether you are a student or co-worker at Madeira, these are words that come to mind when you think about Dr. Ashley Johnson. Along with being a master teacher in the Science Department, Dr. Johnson coaches field hockey and is a senior class advisor. She also served as a goal group leader for Madeira’s strategic planning process and is a member of the Curriculum Leadership Team which has been leading analysis, research, and discussion on how best to execute Madeira’s strategic goal of being the leader in 21st century leader in girls’ education.

Dr. Johnson has a hand in so many new and exciting things happening on campus: the launch of Madeira’s new modular schedule, a sophomore Co-Curriculum service project in which students are proposing their own designs to provide disabled veterans easy access to the Potomac River for canoeing and kayaking, the Physics with Geometry class creating 5K running routes for the Senior Fun Run, and students creating science videos for the Madeira Film Festival, to name a few. As a natural early adopter, Dr. Johnson has incorporated project-based learning into her classroom with great success. Her students are using the latest technology, crossing disciplines, answering critical questions, and developing deliverables that are actually useful. In the simplest terms, they are doing pretty cool stuff while learning important subject matter and skills.

“This year, especially in my Physics with Geometry class, I’ve made a commitment to project-based learning and it’s really changed my role in the classroom,” explained Dr. Johnson. “I put a lot of time into the big idea of the project, and then I hand it over to them. It feels very different than having to control the classroom pace and all the material.”

What she has enjoyed most about the student-centered approach has been seeing students more engaged in the material. “I really love that girls, who don’t always think of themselves as particularly good at science, are getting excited about science because I’ve taken a different angle on it. I’ve tried to relate a lot of the projects to something applicable; whether it has been music, sports, computer games or art, Johnson said.

Part of her interest and ability in finding these bridges between disciplines is her own educational background, explained Dr. Johnson. “I went to a performing arts school, play the viola, and have worked as a chemist in an art museum.  I’ve always been between the arts and science worlds.” With Madeira’s increasing focus on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math), Dr. Johnson’s background gives her an advantage when it comes to managing a curriculum that integrates subjects.

The creative aspect of teaching and connection with students fuels her, but as natural as teaching seems for Dr. Johnson, she really had no intent on becoming a teacher. “In some ways it was meant to be, but I fought it for a while,” she laughed. “I’m the fourth generation teacher on my mom’s side, so I guess it was bound to happen.” Watching her demeanor when interacting with her students, she seems very happy it did.

Dr. Johnson began teaching at Madeira in 2007 and became a master teacher in the Science Department in 2011. She earned a bachelor's degree in Chemistry from the University Florida and a doctorate in Chemistry from University of Texas.