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Meet Eddie Woo!

Eddie Woo, mathematician and creator of Youtube sensation ‘Wootube’, is the latest subject of the Aussie STEM Stars series. Written by REBECCA LIM, the book shows how Eddie Woo grew up to be the maths superstar he is today.

To celebrate the book’s release, PK chatted with Eddie Woo to find out what he loves about maths, and some tips for those who may struggle with the subject. 



What is it about mathematics that inspires and fascinates you?

Mathematics does two things that I find amazing: it enriches our appreciation of the world and it enables us to solve astonishing problems. If you’ve ever watched a flock of birds fly or a school of fish swim in what looks like a masterfully choreographed dance, then you’ve marvelled at the mathematics of synchronisation. If you’ve ever looked up at the Moon and wondered how we were able to so precisely know its position that we could land human beings there and bring them safely back, then you’ve admired the mathematics of calculus and motion. Mathematics has this incredible power to open our eyes to the invisible and open doors to the impossible.

Despite your huge knowledge for maths now, it wasn’t always like that. How did you overcome your difficulties learning maths as a kid?

I can think of two primary factors that enabled me to cross over into the world of loving mathematics. First, I didn’t give up: all the way through school, even though I was fairly slow at it and didn’t always understand it deeply, I always kept working at mathematics in class. This was important because many of the concepts and skills in mathematics build on one another, so if I’d just decided to stop early on, it would have made it much more difficult to fit together all the ideas together later. Second, I had wonderful support: my teachers patiently taught me even as I continued to struggle and my parents never stopped believing in my potential. That family contribution was especially vital: it’s not as though they taught me any of the concepts, but they always insisted that I try my best and refused to let me off by saying, “Focus on other things where you have more natural gifts.” They knew that excellence only comes through effort.

Wootube’ has over a million subscribers now – how did it begin, and what was your reaction to it getting so big?

Wootube began when I taught a student who was diagnosed with cancer. He was absent from school for several weeks at a time for his treatment. While he was putting in effort to try and keep up with the lessons he missed, I knew that following along in his textbook by himself wasn’t enough. I hadn’t been able to learn maths like that when I was his age – I needed someone to clearly explain things to me! So, I just started using my phone to record my lessons and put them online for him to could access them. I know some people start YouTube channels with the express purpose of going viral or becoming famous, but obviously this was just about the furthest thing from my mind – so seeing the channel’s viewership grow like this is pretty astonishing to me! Honestly, my reaction to that growth is pretty simple: I just want to keep doing what I’m doing because people continue to find it useful.

How does it feel to have helped so many students and teachers engage with, and learn to love, maths?

Most of the time, it can feel quite abstract because I don’t see or meet most of the people I help. But I do receive emails from people all around the world who are watching and learning, which is especially amazing to me when those people are not native English speakers – but not that surprising since maths is a universal language. Every now and then someone will recognise me out in public and it’s quite an emotional experience because for some people I meet, I’ve been their learning companion for many years and I think it can come as a bit of a shock for them to realise I’m just a regular person who also buys groceries or coaches his kids’ soccer team!

Why do you believe children seeing people like themselves in fields like science, technology, engineering and maths is important?  

If young people grow up seeing science, technology, engineering and maths as full of people unlike themselves, it’s fairly natural for them to conclude that those fields aren’t supposed to be for people like them. This is mistaken and dangerous because we need diversity in all areas of our society. The reason that diversity matters is two-fold: firstly, we are trying to address complex and multi-faceted challenges in the world that require a wide range of perspectives and problem-solving approaches. Secondly, we need to create solutions that work in a variety of contexts and for communities all around the world, so we want to make sure the unique needs of those communities are considered in the design process – and that is done best when those contexts and communities are reflected by the designers themselves. That’s why I’m delighted to be an educator – I hope my story plays a small part in encouraging and inspiring the next generation of problem-solvers.

Published by Wild Dingo Press.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Aussie Stem Stars: Eddie Woo
Rebecca Lim

Star

Aussie STEM Stars is an inspiring children’s series that celebrates Australia’s experts in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics

The fifth book is about Eddie Woo, the teacher extraordinaire whose ‘WooTube’ channel has been helping students to find the magic in maths since 2012.

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