Paul VI students embrace a new way of learning

Just a few decades ago, the world of education consisted of students in neat rows of desks, silent and listening (well, at least sometimes) to teachers lecturing. Today, at Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax, as in many high schools, learning rarely resembles the classroom of years ago. Students are often up and moving, using laptop computers instead of pen and paper, collaborating, interacting, leading discussions, and learning in a vastly different way.

 

In Julie Yanchulis’ English class, ninth-graders are reading Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” The students are recounting Act 1, and what they learned about the main characters. Instead of just writing a paragraph about Romeo or Juliet, the students are becoming the characters, discussing what they might say with their peers, and “tweeting” from the character’s perspective. “Juliet is a Capulet. #shook,” wrote one student posing as Romeo. The classroom is lively with the students ready and willing to share their “tweets.”

“My classroom is rarely quiet,” said Yanchulis. “When students are lively, talking, sharing, laughing and excited, that’s when I know learning is happening.”

Just a hallway away in the Science Wing, students are typing their own blood. This difficult concept is made simpler through a hands-on approach. Freshman Rachel Connolly said, “Sometimes when you are learning about complicated topics like blood and its components, it’s hard to figure out. But when you actually get to see it up close and in a microscope, it starts making sense.”

Rather than just memorizing terms out of a textbook, students have the chance to experience the subject up close and personal. “When you experience something firsthand, in addition to reading and listening, understanding comes more naturally,” said freshman Joanna Schmank.

Another example of hands-on learning that Paul VI implements is the senior government field trip to Capitol Hill. Every year, the senior class takes a trip to Washington to see the government in action. “We have talked about it all year and it’s good to see it in action; things start to make sense when they come to life,” said government teacher Rich Donahue.

The students appreciate the trip, too. “It is easy to read articles and textbooks, but it is something totally different to actually go to Capitol Hill and sit in on the committees we’ve been learning about all year,” said senior Katie Williams. “It makes it all come together.”

Over the past few years, American education has undergone a transformation. Teachers no longer spend class after class lecturing to rooms full of students staring at them blankly. Teachers come up with new and innovative ways to bring subjects to life, and students have embraced this new learning style.

Collaboration, technology and student-driven hands-on approaches are changing the way learning takes place, and at Paul VI, both students and teachers are embracing the new norm. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018