November 20, 2012

A day in the life of a math consultant

This is a guest post contributed by Dan Allen.  You don't even need a blog to participate in DITLife, just a friend with one!  (I'm extra happy to have guest posts this month since I'm trying to blog every day of November and am starting to run out of ideas other than the big scary ones that will take a long time to write about.)  Without further ado, Dan's Day:

I am a mathematics consultant in Ontario, Canada. My board is home to 40 elementary schools
and 9 secondary schools. Although I have specific schools assigned to me via my portfolio, I have been working with all schools, both secondary and elementary, as the need presents itself. My background is as a secondary math teacher, having taught high school math for eleven years. I just began working as a consultant in September, 2012 and am luck to be a part of a great team of educators who really care about our students.

There are three k-12 “numeracy consultants” for my board and I am one of them. Our job
is to provide support at the system level. We’re often in schools to provide professional learning
opportunities for our teachers, via job-embedded learning opportunities, “lunch & learn” and other
initiatives. I am also working closely with our secondary schools, providing support for new teachers
and providing technology resources for our teachers. There is also an “Intermediate Numeracy
Resource Teacher, who is mainly based in schools (he has a rotating schedule between 4-5 schools at a time) who we work closely with. No two days are the same for me. One day I’ll be working with a
team of secondary teachers on what graphing software is the best to use in their classes, the next I’ll
be drawing rectangles with students in a grade three class and the day after that, I’ll be at a ministry
meeting, looking at new numeracy initiatives that will be rolled out in the near future. That all being
said, here is a day in my life:

Thursday, November 15, 2012

5:30 AM: The alarm goes off to begin my day & I awake in complete darkness. I went through a fairly
significant weight loss over the past two years and working out has become a hobby of mine. Last year when I was teaching at a secondary school, I was finished early enough in the afternoon that I could sneak to the gym for an hour before picking my kids up from daycare at 4:30 in the afternoon. My new position has inconsistent hours and I usually get home from work around 4:45. If I want to continue my gym habit, it has to be before the start of my day so I drag myself out of bed and grab my gym bag. I try to go to the gym before work 3 times per week. Some weeks I hit that goal, others not so much. I struggle to not make too much noise so my wife can get an extra half hour sleep before she gets up and gets the kids ready for school. I’m lucky that she supports me in my efforts to go to the gym & I know sometimes the solo mornings can be difficult. I go downstairs, force down a banana and a granola bar and head out the door at 5:50.

6:00 AM: The intermediate resource teacher & I got talking about fitness last week and he has agreed
to start going to the gym with me. I’m not a personal trainer by any stretch of the imagination but when I made my lifestyle change, I took the time to educate myself with regards to nutrition and exercise. I spend the next hour abusing his muscles and making him sweat until he has to leave at 7:00. His wife is a principal in an elementary school, so he has to go back home to help out with his daughters so his wife can go to work. I stay and get in another 20 minutes on the elliptical before heading to the locker room for a shower and to get dressed for the day.

7:50 AM: My day “officially” starts at 8:30 but that number changes depending on what I’m doing
on any given day. Today, I’m at one of our elementary schools for the entire day. Their start time is
8:45 so I stop into Starbucks to grab a coffee before making the half hour drive to the school. While at Starbucks, I check my e-mail and see that since I checked it the night before I have received 9 emails about meetings that are new, meetings that are now cancelled and some from teachers looking for resources. I reply to them then head out.

8:45 AM: The elementary schools in our board are grouped in triads based on geographic area and
school demographics. Today there will be nine teachers (three from each school), the three principals
and the three consultants in attendance. The scope of the meeting is engaging students by having them learn through an inquiry model. The class we will be going into is a grade 5 group who are studying data management. Specifically they are discussing the difference between continuous data and discrete
data. The morning begins with the teachers in the school library where we will participate in some teacher learning and then we will co-plan a lesson to address the curriculum expectations that are targeted today. We begin with a curriculum mapping activity for the teachers where we look through the curriculum from grades 1 through 8 to see where these concepts come from and where they’re going. Having taught secondary as well, I am able to provide insight into where these concepts show up in secondary mathematics (when are we ever going to have to use this?). I find these mapping activities useful because it’s important for teachers to know where the curriculum is coming from and where the curriculum is going to.

10:00 AM: After clearing up some confusion about what exactly is the difference between discrete and continuous data, we begin the discussion of what we’re going to do with the students. We follow a three part learning model with a minds-on starter, an activity and a consolidation piece. On these days, when we go to the classroom, two of the teachers co-teach the lesson and the rest of the people in the room (all 12 of us) act as silent observers. The observers make notes, take pictures and video, and record student thinking. Before going into the classroom, we actually do the activity with the teachers in attendance to help us anticipate any questions the students may have or any issues that may arise. We all take out shoes off and create a bar graph of our shoe sizes. We look at some technology supports that may help students understand the concept of continuous numbers (we used the x-axis in Geogebra, zooming in further and further so students can see that there are “numbers between the numbers”.

11:30 AM: After planning our lesson, we break for lunch. During the entire lunch break, teacher conversation continues. Discussions from assessment to activities to technology take place amongst the group.

12:15 PM: The student’s lunch break is over & the group of teachers heads into the classroom. We execute our lesson. I was acting as one of the observers so I focus in on a couple of groups on which I make notes and take some pictures. I am lucky enough to have an iPad so I am able to record student thinking via video. This can provide very useful when we reflect on student understanding later in the day. The math lesson has students create living bar graphs and histograms. We create bar graphs using their shoe sizes and histograms by sorting them according to height. The class then had the discussion about the different types of data and why the two graphical displays looked different.

1:15 PM: The teacher group returns to the library to discuss the student work and to plan a consolidation. The group decides that students would benefit from watching some time-lapse videos to show continuous growth. We find a YouTube video of a tomato plant growing and one of a guy growing his beard for an entire year. We also make note of some common instances of discrete data such as the number of siblings they have or the number of televisions in their homes.

2:00 PM: We all return to the classroom to finish up the consolidation of our math lesson. We show the YouTube videos and collect the data about siblings and televisions and by the end, the students have a strong understanding of the difference between continuous & discrete data.

2:30 PM: We return again to the library to provide some planning time for the teachers. This is a great opportunity for teachers from different schools to get together and plan their math lessons. It helps share best practices and promotes consistency from school to school.

3:15 PM: My day at the elementary school is done so I head back to the office. I have a parent council meeting that I’ve been asked to attend this evening. I will be presenting with one of the other numeracy consultants. The presentation is to demonstrate some of the different strategies that we’re using to teach mathematics. The meeting is at 7:00 and we’ve been told that we’re close to the top of the agenda. I’ve also received several emails through the day. Tomorrow I’m participating in an Eco Schools summit. Representative groups (one teacher and four students from grades 4-6) from 37 schools will be meeting to discuss ecology. I’m fairly fluent with technology so I’ve agreed to run an iPad workshop where we’ll have 25 iPads and students will be rotating through. They’ll be exploring some interactive ecology related apps. I’ll need to make sure everything is set for that meeting in the morning.

3:45 PM: I’m finally back at the office and take the time to confirm everything for the parent meeting this evening and the Eco Schools summit tomorrow. I reply to the various emails and browse through Twitter to see if there were any mathematics breakthroughs while I was creating shoe-size bar graphs. I leave the office by 4:30 & head home.

4:45 PM: I pick up my 7 year old daughter & 9 year old son from daycare & head home. My wife manages a couple of dental practices and works until 5:00 so I’m the main chef in our house. Because we try to eat healthy, we stay away from convenience foods. I get dinner prepared while the kids finish up any homework and any other things they need to tend to.

5:30 PM: My wife comes home and my family is able to sit down and have dinner together. We talk about the fact that my son has three hockey games and two practices this weekend (I coach that team by the way so weekends are no break!) and my daughter also has a hockey game. My kids lead very active schedules so there are a lot of times where we need to rely on the assistance of neighbors & friends to help us transport kids to arenas and so on. Similarly, we help them out when their schedules become crazy as well.

6:15 PM: After finishing dinner and helping clean up, I have to head out for the parent meeting. It starts at 7:00 but it’s a half hour drive and I’d like to get there at 6:45 so I can get set up and see if there are any surprises. I give the kids a hug because they’ll be in bed by the time I return. I head out again!

6:45 PM: I arrive at the school and have a quick meeting with the school principal & vice principal. They share stories of their week and we set up for the meeting.

7:00 PM: There are about 30 parents in attendance. We give them a presentation about our board’s numeracy goal and show them a video of students in our board learning through problem solving and open questions. After the video, we actually hand out chart paper and markers and ask the parents, “How much do you spend at Tim Horton’s in a year?” This is an open questions and every parent has an entry point. We get them to work in groups and give them time to formulate their answers. Rather than focusing on whether their answers were right or wrong, we focus on the processes they used to get them. We discuss the importance of group work and problem solving. We discuss the benefits of collaboration and effective communication. Our presentation was only supposed to be 20-30 minutes but the parent group was so engaged, they ended up going until almost 8:00. We finally finish up and excuse ourselves as the meeting goes on to some other school related business.

8:30 PM: I return home again. My wife is relaxing & watching television and the kids are asleep. I rifle through the fridge and throw together my lunch for the next day. I am taking an online course so I open up the laptop and read one of the required readings and get to posting and responding to posts on the discussion boards for the course. My wife goes to bed at 10:00 and I stay up until 11:00 working on my course.

11:00 PM: I finally head to bed, setting up my gym bag for the morning and trying to figure out what I’m going to wear. I need to do this the night before because I’m getting up early again and don’t want to wake everybody up. By 11:30, I’m watching some mindless show while trying to fall asleep. The alarm is set for 5:30 again and tomorrow’s another busy day…


  1. I think it's great that you're able to provide the insight going forwards - I was involved in some local initiatives last year regarding "gap closing" between Grade 8 and 9, and find it helpful to know where they're coming from too. (As an aside... students learn discrete vs continuous in Gr 5? So why does it seem to throw them in Gr 9, and why can they never remember when they hit MDM in Gr 12? >.< )

    Also cool that you're engaging the parents with open questions too, and congrats on the discipline for the gym.

  2. Hey, thanks. I really enjoy the opportunity to work with & learn from other great teachers. It's nice to see the excellence that we have. PS, you're right about the continuous vs. discrete part. There are definitely some parts of the elementary mathematics curriculum that are revisited more than others. I'm not sure if I'd remember some general concept from seven years prior either!