Australia’s favourite maths teacher, Eddie Woo has been announced as the 2020 Hills Shire Council Australia Day Ambassador and will be addressing the crowd at Council’s annual Australia Day event at Bella Vista Farm.
Mr Woo started his now internationally renowned Wootube channel to help one of his students who was sick with cancer and missing a lot of school. The channel has now attracted more than eight million views around the globe as Eddie works to destigmatise maths for students and teachers.
The father of three, who is also the University of Sydney’s Education Ambassador, took some time out of his busy schedule to discuss his success, why making maths fun is an important cause and what Australia Day means to him.
Did you always want to become a teacher?
While I wasn’t setting up my action figures in a make-believe classroom when I was a kid, I still knew fairly early on that I wanted to teach! I remember being in high school when most of my friends were still weighing up options and I’d settled it in my mind that I would go into education. It always struck me as an enormous privilege to be able to have a positive impact on young people at such an important and decisive time in their lives, and that’s what still drives me today.
Were you always passionate about maths? And why do you want to help kids learn about maths?
I was a bit of a late bloomer when it came to my passion for mathematics. I didn’t mind it at school, but I certainly didn’t love it and it never came easily to me. (It still doesn’t!) I learned to love maths when I was at university, because I had to wrestle with it in a new way and for a new purpose. I needed to understand it not just so I could sit a test, but so that I could explain it to students – and that made all the difference. I want to help kids learn it because once you see maths for what it truly is – much more than numbers, but really a whole new way to look at the world – people realise that it’s amazing, powerful, beautiful, and hidden in the world all around us!
What does Australia Day mean to you?
To me, Australia Day is an opportunity to celebrate so many of the things that are wonderful about our country. My parents uprooted their entire lives and moved to Australia in the ‘70s so that my siblings and I could be born into this wonderful country – yet I know that, having lived here my entire life, I often take this “land abounding in nature’s gifts” for granted. I don’t want to forget how much there is to be thankful for – Australia Day is a reminder to stop and pay attention to the daily “gift” of being able to call this country my home.
You have over 700 000 subscribers on your WooTube channel and you’ve conducted numerous face-to-face interviews as well as your own Ted Talk. Do you ever experience stage fright?
Having hundreds of thousands of YouTube subscribers is no insulation against stage fright, because when I record my lessons I only ever have 30 people in the classroom with me – my normal students! While I’ve definitely become a lot more comfortable standing on big stages or in front of cameras, the butterflies never really go away – and I think that’s okay, because I feel like it’s healthy to be a little nervous before you have the privilege of addressing people. I don’t mind feeling a little fear if it helps me work hard to have something worth saying, and to say it well!
You’re a classroom teacher, the University of Sydney’s Education Ambassador, on the board of several committees and you’ve written two books in the last two years. What motivates you?
I’m very humbled to have received so many incredible opportunities over the last few years and really just want to make the most of them – to help people change the way they think about mathematics and education. In many ways, I think both of them are quite misunderstood: maths is viewed as unnecessary by many in society, and education as a profession is not given a great deal of respect in Australian culture. Generations of teachers and communicators have worked to change these misconceptions over many years – I just want to add my voice to the wonderful work they’ve already done!
How does it feel to be the Hills Shire Council’s Australia Day Ambassador?
It’s a real delight to be an Australia Day Ambassador this year, and I’m looking forward to helping everyone celebrate their local community as part of the day’s festivities!
What advice would you give to young people?
A lot of the challenges that we face in the world today seem so enormous that we can’t possibly do anything about them as individuals. It can be easy to sink into discouragement, or frustration, or just apathetic resignation. I would encourage young people today to think about what they can do to be constructive and make a positive difference to the needs in their community. Often the best way to dream big is to work hard locally and sleep in the knowledge that you’ve made a real difference to those around you in a way that truly matters. That’s kind of how my YouTube channel started and I had no idea seven years ago that it would eventually become something used by students and teachers all around the globe!
Are you working on any new projects at the moment?
I’m currently leading a new team of teachers within the NSW Department of Education that’s aimed at encouraging great maths teaching in schools around the state! It’s all about providing tailored and sustained support to classroom teachers by giving them access to collaborative partnerships and the time to really reflect on and transform their daily practices.
For more information on Australia Day at The Farm visit our website, www.thehills.nsw.gov.au.