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My trip to Alicante: “X Jornades d’Educació Matemàtica”

November 24th, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

This post tells the story of my trip to Alicante, Spain in October 2012 to deliver the opening lecture at the 10th Conference on Mathematical Education, held at the University of Alicante and organised by the Societat d’Educacio Matematica Comunitat Valenciana (SEMCV) Al Khwarizmi. The talk was entitled, “The Value of Dynamic Geometry in Modern Education and Problem Solving in GeoGebra.”

It was 24th August 2012 and I was on holiday in Hvar, Croatia when Balazs Koren emailed me to ask if I’d like to represent the International GeoGebra Institute as a keynote speaker at a conference in Valencia. It sounded like a superb opportunity so I checked the dates and agreed. It would be the weekend I broke up from school for the half-term break – and it would be lovely to be thinking about my next holiday as I went back to school in September.

School was immensely busy those first few weeks and I had almost forgotten about the conference by the time the details started to come filtering through. I discovered it was a very special year for this conference as they would be presenting the newly founded GeoGebra Valencian Institute. And they wanted me to give the opening lecture! Somewhere in my hectic timetable I would need to find time to write an hour’s speech about my experiences with GeoGebra – and it would need to be good.

I did find the time, just. But in my haste I misunderstood some communication about the accommodation in Alicante: I went and booked myself a room at the Hotel Explanada, which turned out to be non-refundable, then later discovered the SEMCV team had already booked a different hotel for me near the university. I ended up staying in the Explanada. It happened to be very comfortable and in an ideal location near the harbour.

The opening lecture was due to be given at 5.45pm on Friday 19th October. I flew to Alicante the night before on a plane loaded with obnoxious holidaymakers bound for Benidorm. I was collected from the airport and taken to my hotel by María José Rodero who spoke perfect English. Later I met Salvador “Boro” Caballero, chairman of the organising committee for the conference, who spoke pretty good English too – I was grateful because my Spanish, lamely, is limited to phrases like “una cerveza,” “dos cervezas” and “tres cervezas, por favor” and even then most of the locals spoke Catalan. We had a lovely meal in a typical local restaurant and broke the ice over a beer.

Boro Caballero and Micky Bullock during the introduction to the conference

I spent most of Friday tarting up my talk. After an emergency haircut in the morning I was met by José Antonia Mora, SEMCV’s GeoGebra rep, who drove me to the University. I was a bit nervous but had a few hours to get used to the place and practice my presentation. I was also able to meet 17-year-old mathematics student Marc Monzó Montero, who spoke English superbly well and would be seated beside me during my speech to translate it to the audience. There was a panicky moment when I realised I’d forgotten to shave and I’d left my suit jacket in the students’ refectory where we’d had lunch. To my relief I found my jacket, but I still felt sheepish representing the United Kingdom with a scruffy face.

The talk

I opened with The Diagonal Problem (2d), posing both the mathematical problem and the problem of creating a GeoGebra applet that lights up the squares the diagonal is passing through. The remainder of the talk was really in two sections. In the first I used anecdotal evidence to try to convey the growing need for dynamic geometry packages in mathematics education. I argued that generalisation is very difficult for students; they find it hard to appreciate, for example, that a right triangle with sides labelled a-b-c represents any right triangle, despite there being only one triangle drawn on the page. But, I argued, we can use dynamic geometry to make the graphics move and help to bridge this conceptual gap.

In the second section of my talk I showcased some of the GeoGebra applets I have created for use in the classroom with particular focus on the Ultimate Projectiles Applet and The Binomial Distribution with Normal Approximation. I deconstructed them to show how they worked and pedalled my belief that good GeoGebra applets should be ergonomic and demonstrate a mathematical concept almost effortlessly. To finish I revealed the solution to the Diagonal Problem and discussed how I’d made the GeoGebra applet. I was impressed that a handful of the audience had managed to solve the diagonal problem over the course of the talk.

The opening lecture in full swing

Marc Monzó Montero (translator) is thanked by Micky Bullock as the opening lecture ends

It had gone well and I was pleased to have finished my lecture. I could relax now – I was finally on holiday! After meeting some of the audience members we settled down to watch Manuel Sada‘s entertaining lecture in which he demonstrated a number of really impressive applets, mostly for teaching probability. However, I was all too aware that I didn’t really understand any of what he was saying. I felt almost jealous and even embarrassed at being only unilingual. How can one ever truly explore another culture without the ability to communicate liberally with the locals?

In the evening everyone involved in the organisation and delivery of the conference met at a restaurant. I made friends with Alicia, Boro (a different Boro from the organiser) and Marc and we had a great time over excellent food and beers. It was a unique experience to be wined and dined in such lovely company in this foreign city. I felt strongly welcomed to Alicante.

I spent Saturday morning catching up on some personal emails and the afternoon exploring Alicante. The weather was poor so sunbathing was out of the question. I was met again in the evening by the same crew for food and beers but then I went out for drinks with Alicia & Boro and some of their friends. I was tired so didn’t last long – I was exhausted still from a long stint at school – and hit the hotel in time for a good long sleep.  I was taken to the airport by Boro Caballero in the morning, who gave me a gift of three beautiful tiles displaying the conference logo (pictured above my head in the photos above) and he sent me on my way. It was a super experience and I hope to see the whole crew again before long. I wish to thank them for their superb hospitality.

After returning to the UK I was contacted by audience member Jose Alavedra who had written a more efficient, more flexible version of the diagonal problem applet. It is his applet that now features on the Diagonal Problem page and I wish to make clear my gratitude for his efforts.

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