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Maths + Eddie = fun

Schools

He’s been described as the rock star of maths teachers and received numerous accolades to support the claim, but Eddie Woo insists he is just an ordinary classroom teacher trying to inspire students in a subject that is often dismissed as being ‘just too hard’.

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It feels like you are at a concert waiting for the star of the show to appear. The air is heavy with anticipation and excitement; members of the audience squirm in their seats, craning to get that first glimpse of their hero. Suddenly he is there and with boundless energy starts striding the stage, spruiking all the wonderful virtues of … mathematics!

The man of the moment is Eddie Woo, arguably Australia’s most famous mathematics teacher who visited Adelaide last month to share his love for maths with students and teachers from Catholic, Independent and State schools.

As the head mathematics teacher at Cherrybrook Technology High School, the largest secondary school in NSW, Eddie is well aware that many young people are not enamoured with his subject of choice but he is on a mission to “make maths fun”.

His enthusiastic teaching style is captured in online videos available on his YouTube channel, Wootube, which has more than 300,000 subscribers and attracted more than 17 million views. Eddie’s ‘fame’ with students has resulted in him receiving many teaching awards, including recently placing in the Top 10 teachers worldwide and being named Australia’s Local Hero for 2018.

Despite the accolades, the committed Christian said he feels “blessed” and privileged to be able to fulfil his vocation as a teacher.

“I don’t think there is anything bigger or better than working with individual students and making a difference in their lives. I think it’s a profound privilege,” he told The Southern Cross during a break at Sacred Heart College where he made several presentations to Catholic students and teachers from around the State.

“I feel I am an ordinary teacher just like any other. If you walk into my classroom or watch my videos online you can see very quickly there is nothing particularly extraordinary about what I do, it’s just that my videos are a window into the great work happening in schools around Australia.”

Eddie said one of his main messages to students was that while acknowledging maths as a “hard” subject, it was “immensely practical” to their lives.

“The fact that I didn’t enjoy maths as a kid is a critical part of my story. Even though many people assume mathematics is not for them, I know if I can come to an understanding of mathematics then anyone can. It just takes time, patience and the right guidance,” he said.

While he always knew he wanted to be a teacher, Eddie said his passion at school was English, history and drama. It wasn’t until he was studying at university and he learned there was a global shortage of maths teachers that he felt this was his calling.

“For me every career, every profession, every vocation is about service to community and if I can do something that meets a need that is genuine and severe out in the community, then it makes sense to go in that direction.”

Today the 32-year-old father of three said he has no regrets about his chosen career.

“It’s been all about having the opportunity to share my love of the subject with a wide range of people and help change their minds about a predominantly negative view on this subject. That is very common and I’m trying to help people get a new perspective.

“It is a hard subject. If you do not know what a single symbol in an equation means, you do not understand anything in that equation.

“Because mathematical language is so efficient and precise and succinct, it’s a two-edge sword. If people have a single gap in their knowledge it ends up causing problems later on.

“Therefore people experience it as a really trying, incomprehensible, inaccessible subject because while they don’t comprehend it we still force them to learn it, which is a recipe for turning people away from the subject.”

Commenting on the maths curriculum in Australian schools, Eddie described it as an “excellent syllabus” that was praised by his overseas colleagues, however he said as a nation we had to change our view of mathematics being an “individualistic” subject.

“Many people think of mathematics as something done in a very solitary way, but in fact all real mathematics is done in collaboration. Any problem that mathematicians are trying to solve today are too large for one person to solve – climate change, political science, engineering – these are large complex problems that require teams of people with diverse insight to solve.”

He added that the students of today needed to understand the importance mathematics would play in the jobs of the future.

“Mathematics is a gateway not just to being a mathematician or a statistician or an engineer – every area of life that you can conceive of, mathematical understanding enriches and deepens it.”

Eddie Woo during one of his presentations at Sacred Heart College.

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