Concord Elementary’s Carol Roper engages students in unique learning of math skills
By Bill Lauterbach
Newspaper writers often depend on leads for stories. The Exponent received such a lead regarding a teacher in the Concord School District who is taking her students to national levels in mathematics, in the top 10 percentile. Never one to pass up a lead such as this, The Exponent followed up and met with Carol Roper, a first-grade teacher at Concord Elementary School.
We were greeted at the door by Concord K-8 Principal Becky Hutchinson. During the long walk down the corridors of the school, the principal gave us some interesting preliminary insight. “Carol Roper is an extremely dedicated teacher. She works tirelessly at researching and improving her instructional approaches. The level of learning and engagement that her students display is outstanding. There is never a second where the students are not actively participating in gaining new knowledge. She has taken a special interest in math instruction as of late. She uses math workshops to help kids understand the fundamental concepts of math. The manipulative and math games she uses really brings learning math to life, which shows in our tests scores. I currently have a son in her class and the time she puts in to make sure he grows into a strong reader and mathematician has been impressive. I can’t say enough about Carol. Beyond her work with our students, she works closely with our interventionist to help our struggling students, serves on the literacy and math committees, and is willing to help out in any way that is asked of her.”
As we entered the classroom, one of our problems was locating chairs larger than the first-grade size. Once that problem was resolved, we queried Roper about her background and what drives her.
Carol Roper graduated from Concordia University-River Forest, Illinois in 1970. Her first job was as a first-grade teacher in Belleville, Illinois. Her husband, R. William Roper (who is pastor of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Brooklyn), was required to move quite frequently because of his pastoral obligations. This paved the way for Roper’s numerous teaching jobs in all types of different schools with varying degrees of student demographics. The traveling finally stopped 20 years ago, when her husband took a pastoral position at a Jackson congregation, and Roper started teaching at Concord Elementary.
First, we had to find out why 1st graders were now learning math and not arithmetic since arithmetic was taught to the majority of baby boomers. What is the difference between math and arithmetic? That answer came from Roper’s student teacher, Kaitlyn Curell from Central Michigan University. “Arithmetic is about the numbers themselves. Math is about the theory (behind the numbers).” And what technique does Roper use to get these kids in the upper 10 percent of their national classmates? “My whole philosophy in teaching math is not to teach procedures, not to just try and get the right answer, but to teach the kids the concepts. How numbers relate; doing lots of hands-on, do concrete problems first and then go to pictorial where they imagine pictures of it before they answer. It’s called the ‘Concrete, Pictorial, Abstract’ method. We do a lot of hands-on; we do a lot of learning games. I want to make math fun. The kids are very engaged during math time. Right now we’ve been working at place value for a month.”
“Place value” – ding, ding, ding. A little bell might be going off in your minds right now. Yes, “place value” is a Common Core math teaching principle, according to Roper. However, many people do not realize that the type of math used in Common Core is no different than the math taught and used generations ago. Baby boomers learned from their parents and grandparents about adding and subtracting in their heads or how to manipulate numbers to come up with quick answers. The concept is basically the same and has been around for generations, according to Roper.
Math isn’t the only subject where Roper’s students are excelling. Reading is yet another subject the children are really engaged in. Roper states; “Reading has been taught in small groups; they’ve called it guided reading or small group reading.” The children read at different levels and are given books that meet and exceed those levels. In fact, to help their reading along, The Stowe Insurance Agency of Jackson recently presented a Scholastic Book Fair grant to Roper and Concord Elementary Schools to assist in expanding student reading skills.
First graders are funny little people. We had to ask Roper what she considers to be one of her funniest teaching moments. “Well, I’m kind of conscience of my age. I mean, I don’t feel old, I have a lot of energy and I feel I know too much now to retire because I continue to grow. So I made a mistake the other day; we were talking about what was six plus seven. I accidentally wrote 15 on the board. One little boy says; ‘Roper. You made a mistake!’ We talk a lot about ‘it’s OK to make a mistake because that’s how you grow your brain.’ Because when you make a mistake, you have to figure out what you did wrong and how to fix it. So I asked if it was OK for me to make a mistake. And the little boy says; ‘Yes Roper. It’s OK that you made a mistake because you’re old.’”
We asked Roper if she is involved in any extracurricular activities, either at the school or civically. She stated that except for some school committees she works on, or an occasional potluck dinner for St. Mark’s in Brooklyn, she spends most of her time learning new and better ways to teach. Student teacher Kaitlyn Curell chimes in; “She comes in here with new things every day! I am fresh out of college. I should have the newest information! No, no, Carol comes in every morning and shows me all of this new stuff.”
We asked Roper to summarize her teaching technique in a single sentence. “We don’t waste time and we hardly ever color.”