If y’all remember, in early May I wrote about fellow Asian brother from Australia Eddie Woo. If you are still scratching your head trying to remember who he is, well he is Australia’s most famous math teacher, who teaches his students math whilst making it fun. He also makes YouTube videos teaching the secrets of algebra, equations and other mathematical mysteries which is freely accessible and is used in remote/regional area schools and students to enhance their learning. So yeah, he is a pretty big deal and continues to contribute and make math fun for students. Here is our initial post about this champ, and why he has decided to bring fun to math to enhance the student’s learning experience.
As for me, I was personally shit at math in school, and just passed the minimum required to finish high school and get into my University course, so I wish I had a teacher like Woo to teach me so I could have championed my most struggle street subject. Anyways, I had the opportunity to interview Woo to get his personal take about why make math fun and gage his observations about how math is taught in other countries. So without further adieu, here is my interview with Eddie Woo – Australia’s most famous Math teacher:
What motivated you to get into teaching and to choose math as your specialty area?
At school, I had the opportunity to be a leader in some extra-curricular activities for students, like being an army cadet and being a mentor to help younger students get used to high school. When I did those things, I quickly learned that I really enjoyed helping people learn and grow, so I felt like teaching was the perfect environment for me because I’d be able to do that every day. I went into teaching to help students rather than for a single subject, so I just wanted to teach wherever there was the most need – and that was in mathematics.
What is your favourite math theorem and equation?
This would definitely have to be Euler’s Identity, which is e^(i*pi)+1=0. It combines a number that arises from exponential growth (e), a number that is connected to circles (pi), and a number that isn’t supposed to exist (i, the square root of -1) – and says they are all connected in an impossibly simple relationship. Most mathematicians agree that it’s the most beautiful equation in all of mathematics.
Which area of math is your favourite to teach?
I try not to have a favourite, actually. There are areas of mathematics that I find more difficult to teach than others, but as an educator that just makes me want to work harder so that I can understand it better and communicate it more clearly. Many of the topics I am best at teaching now are the ones I was worst as a student.
Do you have any math jokes which you use to entertain students?
Why was 10 afraid of 7? Because 7 ate 9, and 10 was next.
What is the most inspiring student experience?
For me, it is endlessly exciting to see students make the journey from saying to me at the start of the year, “I can’t do this subject and I hate it” to the point where they are both competent and confident mathematicians who realise that they are capable of much more than they ever believed. Changing a person’s mind about themselves – being able to adjust their own self-concept – is one of the most amazing privileges that any human being can ever possess.
What is the best method of teaching young students to understand maths better and faster?
Personally, I believe that in the vast majority of cases, trying to understand mathematics faster is a mistake because it leads to people to try and take shortcuts. People often think that having “tricks” so that they can complete certain calculations or solve particular kinds of problems quickly is what mathematics is about. But this isn’t true: real mathematics is about asking questions more than it is about finding answers, it’s about understanding the concept underneath something that makes it work. I think the best way to teach young students (and all students for that matter, including adults!) to understand mathematics more deeply is to connect it to concepts that they’ve experienced before and build up from those foundations.
What do you think of the Singaporean math teaching methods?
I don’t know much about it but I’m actually going on a study tour to Singapore very soon so I will let you know once I find out more on this one!
Do you have a philosophy of teaching math?
There are many attitudes that underpin my approach to teaching mathematics, but here are some of them: first, students need to understand why they are learning something. I like to say to tell young teachers that if they expect students to work out x, they are going to need to tell them why. Second, you have to be engaged in learning mathematics yourself to teach it effectively; if you aren’t learning anything and aren’t excited about what you’re learning, then what hope do your students have? Third, you need to work hard to have empathy with your students; if they find things difficult but the concepts seem obvious to you, then you need to work on seeing things from their point of view again.
What do you say to people who tell you that teaching is for people who have no other career options?
I tell them they’re wrong! At school, I had academic scores that would have allowed me to take almost any path I wanted in university – but I knew that my skills were best suited toward teaching. Besides, many of my friends who aren’t teachers openly admit that they would never be able to handle a group of rowdy teenagers let alone get them to actually learn something!
When you see a student struggling to grasp complicated mathematical concepts, what do you do to help them understand and motivate them to learn more?
This may seem overly simple, but the key thing I do to achieve both those goals is to come alongside them and do whatever I need to in order to assure them that I’m there to help them and I believe in their ability to become better. Many students become demotivated and are reluctant to keep trying because their experience of learning mathematics makes them feel stupid. Everyone else around them seems to understand how to solve the question but them, so they get the impression that they must be dumb. But right away I want to establish that I don’t care what other people think: I believe they can improve and I’ll do whatever is necessary to help them improve.
What significant Math contribution do you want to be remembered for? And what remarkable message would you give to maths students/teachers?
I want to be remembered for helping people experience mathematics as a positive thing that helps them solve problems and appreciate the world around them in a deeper way. There is mathematics all around us, hidden in plain sight, and once you understand the language of the world’s patterns you will marvel at the beauty of the universe you inhabit. The message I would give to students and teachers is: don’t give up! Mathematicians aren’t the ones who find mathematics easy – they’re the ones who enjoy how hard it is. So if you’re having difficulty, don’t despair. That’s the sign you’re actually learning something, so keep going!
Do you think the ways you teach math to your students and on YouTube is an innovative way to teach math?
I don’t really think that what I’m doing is anything especially innovative – I’m really just taking the lessons that mathematics educators have known for decades are the most effective strategies to help students learn, and I have the privilege of bringing those methods into my classroom for my students to enjoy.
So my final words? Well Woo is incredibly humble, and really has no other motive except to help students enjoy and understand math. The fact that he is making it fun by using jokes and citing pop culture to illustrate examples, shows how committed and passionate he is to enhance all his students learning experience – both in the classroom and online. I definitely look forward to catching up with Woo, when I head back home to Sydney for a visit, because I definitely enjoy seeing his passion and perseverance. Being a teacher is one of the hardest career path a person can do so, what an amazing feat to see a fellow Asian brother show how it is cool, fun and important!
Images via ABC News