“Society tends to generalize that female engineers are for men and health sciences or biology for women” – La Provincia

David Hernández Benito is a mathematics teacher in an institute in Peñafiel, a town located in the province of Valladolid, which has been in the news this week for fabulous marks that his students have taken at the EBAU. The average score of his students on the selectivity mathematics exam was 9,176, so the teacher was extremely proud on twitter.

We have talked to him about how to motivate students, on mathematics and its application in real life, on what teledoaching has been like during confinement €

-David, your students have obtained an average of 9,176 in the selectivity mathematics exams. What do you think has been the key to these notes?
-The main thing is that they are a group of excellent students, the best class together that I have had in all the years that I have been a teacher. Both during face-to-face classes and during confinement they have been an exemplary group, always attentive, active and very hard-working. The merit is also from the teachers who have gone before me, since they had a very good base and, of course, from their families.

-You teach at a public institute in Peñafiel, a municipality of about 5,000 inhabitants located in the province of Valladolid. What is it like to teach (and receive) in the “empty Spain”?
-Castilla y León is one of the most depopulated Communities in Spain, but the ratio by class remains the same. This course I had classes of between 25 and 30 students. The main advantage of teaching in rural areas is that, from my point of view, the students are closer. In addition, in the rural institutes where I have worked, the atmosphere among colleagues and also with the management team is very good.

Unfortunately the number of disadvantages exceeds the number of advantages. For starters, rural HEIs are the last to receive the resources and the facilities are usually in a worse state or older. You won’t get rid of some day without heating or internet. Also, the teachers are very unstable. At IES Conde Lucanor, approximately 70% of the teachers are interns. Great professionals who cannot develop their educational project in the center since every year they have to teach in a different town or city. This greatly affects stability and educational quality. In addition, Peñafiel has the disadvantage that to get there you have to use the N-122, one of the roads with the most traffic and accidents in Spain. They have been promising a highway for more than fifteen years, the A-11, which never arrives. It would be a great favor to the people, and to their students in particular, to have decent communications. You have to bet because the talent that is formed here can also stay here if you want, and that goes through good communications.

– and how it has been during the confinement?
– At first the teledocencia was complicated. There were students who did not have the means or good connections, but the management team solved it very efficiently. By the second week, we already had all the virtual classrooms and online classes set up perfectly and functioning normally. We have had to adapt the methodology and above all, spending many hours in front of the computer, tablet or mobile. Of course, all with our own means. In companies, workers have received laptops and incentives to pay for electricity and the internet. In our case everything has run on its own.

-David, last year the Spanish Association for Digitization (DigitalES) pointed out in a study that around 75% of ESO students did not understand mathematics. In addition, we see how technical careers (STEM) have fewer and fewer students. What do you think is going wrong?
-I don’t know the first study. From my own experience it seems very exaggerated to say that 75% of students do not understand mathematics. It is true that It is a subject that costs more to approach and that generates many fears among the students. Teachers may not be knowing how to motivate students or make them lose that fear of mathematics, but I think the main cause is that since we were very young we hear from family and friends saying that mathematics is useless, that they are very difficult or poorly taught, and that generates a predisposition in the students to hate this matter, before even knowing her.

With regard to STEM careers, I also do not know where it comes from that they have fewer and fewer students. Careers like math, physics, or engineering increasingly have higher cut notes, so this means that they are more in demand. Perhaps the question should be why only 18% of people who choose these careers are women. Everyone is very free to choose what they like to study, but I think that, as with toys or clothing, society tends to generalize the idea that engineering is a branch for men and the health sciences or biology for women.

-How do you manage to motivate your students? Do you think that innovative techniques must be used to make students understand mathematics?
-For me, the main working tool is proximity. If from the first day you make the students feel comfortable with you, teaching is easier. On the other hand, if it is not achieved, it is very difficult to advance. Also, I am a supporter of explain what the content is for that we see in math class in real life. It is true that when you go to the supermarket we think arithmetically, but we will never use a definite integral or factor a polynomial there. But if we talk about Instagram and how the algorithm makes the photos of the girl or boy you like appear before others, or why when I have a conversation about white sneakers, then all the internet ads end up showing me that We are already understanding a little more what this is for, which, in principle, by itself, does not seem to have much practical application for a teenager.

There are hundreds of innovative techniques for learning mathematics. Most are more effective at the primary education level or the first years of ESO, such as the Singapore method. During the quarantine we have had to use others by force, such as the “flipped classroom”, but changing the class for their homes. In the lower courses we sent videos explaining and then through the chat we solved the most practical questions.
On Twitter I have an account (fun with functions) where I spread or teach math differently, with designs that I make to explain algebraic concepts in a geometric way and always delimiting the text to 280 characters. In class I usually use some of these images to help students understand abstract concepts or to motivate them to think and investigate.

I think in high school we can use punctual innovative techniques but not as a daily resource in the classroom. The EBAU is always a priority and there is not much time, since in addition, for many of the science students, this subject counts double when it comes to pondering to enter the University. This high school course we have made a derivative contest with several Kahoot, for example, with quite a lot of success. We have analyzed documentaries on Cambridge Analytics, the North American elections and Brexit to study probability issues. We have also used graphs of the evolution of the pandemic to study statistics. During teledoaching we have put a lot of emphasis on the active methodologies Since following a master class from home is more complicated and less productive, from my point of view. On many occasions, it has been the students who have created these exercise statements so that the other classmates can then solve it, thus generating a much more enriching and participative collective learning.

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