There is something about role-playing that drives a message home. Many students seem to comprehend a lesson better with visuals and what’s more visual than your teacher and classmates dressing up as medieval gladiators?
This is the life of a student in Paul McAndrew’s World History class at Roman Catholic High School in Philadelphia.
“One of the main reasons why there were gladiator fights,” McAndrew commented, “was to distract the poor people from what was going on in the world.”
To keep his students from being distracted with the outside world, McAndrew tries to have at least one engaging activity for the students to do each class. Recently, McAndrew’s students conducted a mock knighting ceremony so they could comprehend what an actual ceremony would have been like.
Although McAndrew acknowledges that there may be some historical inaccuracies during the role-playing activities, the students don’t seem to mind because they are having fun. McAndrew, who also teaches fencing, gives the students a brief fencing overview and provides them with foam swords to reenact a mock gladiator fight. The other students vote (as they did in ancient times) on whether the survivor lived or died.
“Being able to jump into the position of a gladiator while learning about them at the same time was the most fun I have ever had in the classroom,” stated Michael Hall ’19.
Each student at the all-male high school receives an iPad at the beginning of the semester. This provides McAndrew with the ability to teach with that technology in mind.
“The way I describe myself as a teacher is ‘old-school, new-school,’” McAndrew stated about his classroom philosophy. He has his students conduct traditional research, find primary source analysis, write historical essays, and read textbooks, but he mixes those assignments with interactive web searches and role-playing activities along with other creative lesson plans.
However, his drive to keep the class engaged doesn’t always work out. Last year, McAndrew wanted to demonstrate how supply and demand worked so he had the students pick players—like in Fantasy Football. “It was total chaos,” he said, laughing. “It was all over the place.” He made a mental note of how he could make that assignment better, and he now plans to resurrect his supply and demand demonstration during this semester.
One activity that McAndrew has refined over the years is dividing the class up into the caste system that depicts the rigid social class system popular in India from before the days of Christ until 1947. For the role-play, each student has a certain role within that social structure. He admitted that the first few times he conducted this activity, the students didn’t really understand their roles or were not following their assigned role. Now when presenting this activity, McAndrew takes extra time to explain the roles and their significance.
To drive the message home, he buys candy for members of the top tier of the social class and “ignores” the lower class members (just to demonstrate how the social structure actually works). By the time the caste system activity is complete, the students understand it better than if they had just read about it in a book or online.
The success that McAndrew has had in the classroom hasn’t come easily. “Ninety percent of teaching is experience—learning by doing,” he noted. “During my first year, I endured a huge learning curve.”
McAndrew conducted his student-teaching at Twin Valley High School and began his teaching career at Archbishop Carroll before accepting the position at Roman Catholic. Although he acknowledged that there is no substitute for experience, he appreciated the foundation that his Immaculata education provided. Earning an undergraduate degree in History with Secondary Education and minoring in Spanish in 2010, McAndrew continued his education at Immaculata and received his M.A. in Educational Leadership in 2015.
During his undergraduate coursework, he had a class with long-time Education Professor Joseph Corabi, Ed.D. The three-week accelerated class, called Foundations of Education, is a required course before student-teaching is assigned. With two years of education classes under his belt, McAndrew already knew why he wanted to be a teacher. Or at least he thought he did before he walked into Corabi’s class.
“Why do you want to be a teacher?” McAndrew remembered Corabi asking his students. When many replied, “I want to make a difference,” Corabi would mockingly say, “Oh, you want to make a difference, do you?” But then, McAndrew commented, he truly wanted to know why each of his students decided to become teachers. “Even though he tore you down through those three weeks, he built you back up again to a point where you had a lot more confidence,” McAndrew stated.
McAndrew may have gotten the role-playing bug from Corabi. For one of their final assignments, he had the students conduct a mock job interview. McAndrew was selected as the job seeker and others in the class portrayed a school board official, another teacher, and other educational officials. The last to “interview” McAndrew was the superintendent, played, of course, by Corabi. “It was extremely intimidating but challenging at the same time,” he remembered.
Old-school, new-school, intimidating but challenging—these are terms that could describe Paul McAndrew—or perhaps the 21st century educator.