Eddie Woo Q+A
A kids-only Q+A session with award-winning Aussie maths teacher, author and TV host, Eddie Woo.
Eddie’s website: Mister Wootube: https://misterwootube.com
Bryce: Hello there – and welcome to a very special Squiz Kids Q+A — part of our ongoing series of interviews with people in the news, where you – the kids of Australia – get to ask the questions.
I’m Bryce Corbett.
Today, we’re delighted to welcome to the Squiz Kids hot seat Australia’s best known maths teacher and ABC Me TV host, Eddie Woo.
For almost ten years, Eddie Woo has built up a loyal following of fans – both inside and outside his high school classroom.
You’ve probably come across his extraordinarily popular Wootube channel – with its 1 million subscribers and counting, or read his excellent book, Woo’s Wonderful World of Maths. Or if not, maybe you’ve seen him hosting the totally cool Teenage Boss TV show on ABC Me.
He’s the man who has single-handedly put the fun back into maths – he makes algebra awesome, times tables terrific and has an enthusiasm for numbers that is just infectious.
Eddie Woo – welcome to Squiz Kids!
Eddie: Bryce, thank you so much for having me. It’s great to be here.
Bryce: It’s so exciting to have you hear in the Squiz Kids hot seat. Though I feel like the tables have turned here a little bit … you’re the maths teacher, I feel like you should be asking the questions. And yet you’re the one answering today. Are you ready to be grilled by the kids of Australia?
Eddie: Oh look, I’ll do my best! I’m familiar with that feeling. Sometimes when I have to go speak to the principal at my own school, just to have a chat with him, I get that feeling that every kid does when they’re outside the principal’s office – ‘oh no, what have I done to get myself here?’ But then, wait a minute, I came here myself to ask a question! So don’t worry, I think we’re on very equal footing here Bryce, and looking forward to tackling these brilliant questions!
Bryce: Ok, let’s do it. The first question comes from Alexandra in Canberra: “What is it about maths that makes your heart sing?”
Eddie: There’s a lot of different things that I love about maths Alexandra, but I think if I had to pick one it’s that maths is a bit like a pair of glasses for me. I’ve worn glasses since I was 12 years old and if I take them off the whole world is kind of blurry and fuzzy and I squint to see things and it can be a bit hard to make out, like ‘which face is that’ or ‘why is that happening?’. I can’t see it clearly. And maths is a way to understand the world, and to see what makes things tick, what are the patterns underneath it. We’re all living through difficult times with Covid-19. The Coronavirus has really made us all question what normal life looks like. And the way that we can understand the spread of this virus, and also how we’re successfully fighting it, the way that we do that is through mathematic models that help us understand where the virus is going and how we can stop it. So for me, that’s a really wonderful and powerful thing, and I think that’s why maths makes my heart sing.
Bryce: What a wonderful way to look at the world. Everything through a mathematical prism. The next question is from Sienna in Bonbeach, Victoria.
Sienna: Hi Eddie, my name is Sienna and I am 11 years old from Bonbeach. My question is, do you have any strategies that you use to make maths fun?
Eddie: Oh Sienna, the first thing I want to say before I answer your question is that I have a lot of sympathy and empathy for you actually because I found maths boring when I was going through school around your age. I sort of thought to myself, why do I have to do all this number crunching and times tables, I don’t really see the point. So I do have a couple of suggestions for you. I think we all find things more enjoyable when we’re better at them. Sometimes we tackle things that are really tough and we’re not quite ready for them, we need more support or more time, so I think that being able to develop what us teachers like to call fluency – when you feel comfortable with ideas that’s when you can actually make them enjoyable. That’s my first suggestion. And my other one is to maybe, if you’re having trouble bringing maths to fun, maybe bring fun to maths in that a lot of the games we enjoy playing, a lot of the games I play with my kids and my family, and pretty much every board game out there, whether it’s Monopoly or Ticket To Ride or Settlers of Catan – they all actually have mathematics deeply woven into them if you have eyes to notice them. So I guess I would encourage you to play lots of games, maybe get a Rubiks Cube and figure that out. There’s lots of mathematics to explore in those things that we actually enjoy.
Bryce: There you go, excellent advice. Now we have a question from Grace, from Kangaroo Island in South Australia…
Grace: My question is, have you noticed a difference in how boys and girls process maths concepts?”
Eddie: Ooh this is an interesting one. I’ve been teaching for more than 10 years now, so I’ve taught a lot of boys and a lot of girls. I’ve only ever taught in co-ed schools where boys and girls all mix together. The short answer to your question is – no, I haven’t noticed a difference in the way boys and girls process maths concepts, as in the way that they process ideas or try and solve problems. But I will tell you I have noticed a bit of a difference in how boys and girls sometimes respond to mistakes. In maths it’s really important to make mistakes, it’s how we learn things. We try an idea, it might not work out, the solution might not be what we expected or what we wanted, and then we have to go back and try again. And one of the things that makes a great mathematician is that ability to say ‘I got it wrong, but that’s ok, it doesn’t mean that I’m bad at maths or this problem is impossible. It just means that I try again.’ And I find that sometimes boys and girls will do that in different ways. In my classes I like to say ‘embrace your mistake monster’. It can be a bit scary at first but all it really wants to do is chase you down, give you a hug, and help you learn something. That’s what it’s really for. So that’s probably the one thing I would say, which maybe is a difference.
Bryce: I love the idea of a mistake monster. I feel like I have one sitting beside me every hour of the day.
Eddie: Same here Bryce!
Bryce: The next question is from Finn in Sydney.
Finn: What is your favourite number? And why?
Eddie: Wow. I have a lot of difficulty answering this question, team! My favourite number is kind of like picking a favourite song. It changes from week to week. I’ll tell you what my favourite number is right now because there’s a recent one I’ve been really interested in. Get ready, here it comes… it’s 1,056,006. And you might say, ‘Eddie, what kind of a random number is that? What’s that about?’
I live in Sydney and one of the most famous buildings in the world is very close to where I live, and that’s the Sydney Opera House. Some people don’t know this, but it’s white. It’s not painted white but it’s covered in tiles. Hundreds and thousands of tiles. In fact – 1,056,006 tiles is the number they created to tile that very beautiful building. So that’s currently my favourite number.
Bryce: That’s awesome when you think about it. Was there a mathematical reason for that, or was that just how many fitted on the design?
Eddie: Yeah, there’s some beautiful equations that give us that particular number. The reason why Jørn Utzon the architect came up with this tiled design is that he wanted people to be able to look at the very smooth curved sails and see the light reflecting off it at different angles. It’s part of why everyone around the world says the building is so beautiful. So that just gives it even more of a reason for it to be my favourite number.
Bryce: There you go. See, patterns in the Opera House as well. Lets go to Canberra now, in our nation’s capital, where 9 year old Archer has a question. Actually, he had a lot of questions. And this is one that we chose. It’s about your tv show Teenage Boss.
Archer: At what age do you think kids should start helping to manage money?
Eddie: Archer, I’m so glad you enjoy the show. We had a lot of fun making it. This is a tricky question to answer because it’s sort of different for everybody. If you’ve watched the show a fair bit you’ll know that every boss we have on is a different age and I think people are sometimes attuned to the importance of managing money at different ages. And that’s totally fine, it’s not like, ‘oh no, I’ve hit age 11 and I need to really understand how dollars and cents work’. We all hit that spot at different times. So probably the best age is when we all start thinking ourselves about spending money. Maybe you’ve already thought about some item you’d really like to save for and you think ‘oh, mum/dad, can I have that? Can I buy that?’ As soon as you start asking a question like that, it’s time to start talking money. And in terms of best strategies, I guess my first suggestion is to have a plan. If you are saving up for something, maybe it’s a $200 bicycle or it’s something that’s really exciting, you need to have a plan for that kind of thing. You can’t hope one day you’ll end up with $200 magically appearing in your piggy bank. You’re going to have to think about ‘ok, how much can I save per week? What if I do chores, can I maybe earn some money faster?’ And I think that’s a really helpful strategy to start with when managing money.
Bryce: Excellent advice. Now here’s a question from Archie in NSW – I quite like this question:
Archie: Is maths like a language but with numbers?
Eddie: Achie that is a very clever question. I have to wonder actually whether you’ve been doing some reading of ancient history because one of my favourite mathematicians, a man named Galileo, he lived in the 1600s, a long time ago, one of my favourite quotes of his is ‘mathematics is the language with which God has written the universe’. Which is pretty profound when you think about it. We have languages to communicate ideas. If you want to speak with someone you need to be able to have a common language so you can say ‘What do you mean by that? What are you trying to say?’ And what Galileo was trying to point out is that the shapes around us, like the spherical nature of a planet, or the weird sort of spiral of our galaxy, or if you throw a ball through the air the weird sort of arch shape that it traces out, which we mathematicians call a parabola… all these ideas need to be expressed in a language we can understand. And for Galileo at least that language was mathematics. So i think you’re onto something there Archie. But it’s not letters, mostly, unless you’re doing algebra. It is numbers that do all the talking.
Bryce: Here’s a question I think a lot of kids will have, it comes from 5 yo Nousayba in Picnic Point, NSW.
Nousaybe: What advice would you give kids who are struggling with maths?
Eddie: Wow. Well before I give you any advice Nousaybe, I would say first that this is actually really normal, to struggle with maths. I think sometimes people think ‘Am I the only one that doesn’t get how to solve this question?’ and that’s actually a very common experience. I guess my advice would be to be patient with yourself. Sometimes when I’m looking at a problem and I’m just like, I don’t get it, this is not clicking for me, I will be tempted to just give up and say ‘I don’t have the time for this, I just want to go and kick a ball, or do something that’s easier for me.’ But to be patient with myself and say I want to persevere, and maybe ask someone else how this problem works. Maybe they can understand and help me with it. And peers – learning from them – is actually one of the best ways. Maybe the teacher learned this a long time ago and they’ve forgotten what it’s like to find this difficult. But maybe the person beside me might be able to help me. And I say this vice-versa as well! If you’re the person who can see someone in your class or in your family and they’re struggling with maths you can actually not just help them, but help yourself by explaining to them and supporting them as they come to that understanding. And usually, once I’ve had a few different people explain it to me a few different ways, eventually one will click. And I think having that patience and perseverance is really vital to keep going.
Bryce: Excellent advice. A question now from Class 3 at Snowy Valleys Special School in Tumut, NSW.
Sam: When and where did Eddie first start seeing recurring patterns everywhere?
Eddie: I’m a little bit embarrassed to say this, but it’s just true. I think the most direct answer to your question is when I started teaching. When I did maths at school I kind of did it like a lot of people do. I learned enough maths to pass the test, so I could answer the questions in class, and then I just kind of forgot about most of it. But when I had the first opportunity to actually stand in front of other students and try and teach them something, I realised I needed to understand it much more deeply than I had before. And I would encounter students who would say, ‘Why do I have to learn all this algebra stuff? Or trigonometry? Or calculus? What’s the point of all of these hard equations and formulas?’ And I would have to come up with a reason to motivate them. And I would have to say, hmm, maybe I need to think about you know, the mathematics that’s found in sport, because you love sport. Or the mathematics that is found in art, because I’ve taught many beautifully artistic students who think that they’re not very interested in mathematics until they realise that art itself is full of maths. And so I started seeing that I guess in my adult life. And that’s part of why I’ve written the books that I have. Because I wish the me from the past could have learned that lesson much earlier. And I hope that anyone that gets to read my books does realise there are recurring patterns sometimes in the most surprising of places.
Bryce: Wonderful. And finally, a question from Blake in Brisbane.
Blake: If there was a world where everything was Maths, and you had a choice between Earth and the Math world – which would you choose?
Eddie: Blake that is a tough question to answer because when you say ‘between Earth and this other planet…’ I mean, Earth is full of a lot of things that I love, like my family for a start, I wouldn’t want to leave them behind! But you know, the more I think about this question Blake, I wonder – and I don’t know if you intended this – I wonder if this is kind of a trick question. Because I kind of think that this All Things Maths Planet… we already live on that planet. Something that I got taught when I went to university and trained to become a teacher is that there’s mathematics in everything if you’re willing to dig deeply enough. So I kind of love this idea that if there’s something that doesn’t appear mathematical, say you look up at the stars and it just looks like a beautiful array of constellations up there, but actually there’s mathematics in the reason why we see Taurus or Virgo or all these other constellations like the Southern Cross. And for me I’ve learned enough mathematics to know that even if I don’t see it at first I just need to look a little bit closer. So I don’t know if that’s a cop out Blake, I’m not trying to sit on the fence, but I kind of feel like this earth that we live on is this All Maths Planet.
Bryce: I think that’s an excellent response frankly, Eddie, and it’s inspired me to go and stare at the night sky and start employing a few equations…
Sadly, that’s all we have time for today. We were going to give you a pop quiz and test you on your times tables, but we figured it’s getting close to school holidays for you there in NSW…
Now before you go — we always give away a prize for the best question you’ve been asked today. And the prize is a copy of your new book, Eddie Woo’s Magical Maths 2 – for the winner to put in his or her school library. And I know this is tough but you’ve got to pick who the winner is.
Eddie: This is nigh on impossible, but you know what Bryce? I’ve thought really hard as I’ve gone through the questions, and I think I’m going to go with Nousaybe’s question about advice for kids who are struggling with maths. I just love, number one, that someone who is struggling would ask that question rather than give up, I think that shows a fantastic characteristic and quality to want to persevere. So thumbs up Nousaybe. And the other thing is I think my book actually might help you experience maths in a different way and I hope that that might aid you in that struggle and help you enjoy mathematics even. So good luck with that, and I hope you have fun with it!
Bryce: Fantastic. Congratulations Nousaybe and we’ll get that prize out to you. Now once again, an enormous thanks to all of you Squiz Kids who sent in questions for Eddie. We had so many questions from all corners of the country. Every single one of them was excellent and was hugely appreciated. We would love to have used every one of them – but we just ran out of time. Eddie Woo, thank you so much for taking the time to chat to us today.
Eddie: My absolute pleasure, thanks Bryce.
Bryce: And remember folks – the Squiz Kids podcast – a daily fix of kid-appropriate news – is out at 7am every morning, via the Squiz Kids website – www.squizkids.com.au – or wherever you find your podcasts.
This is Bryce Corbett, signing off – and Eddie, would you please do the honours…
Eddie: Now get out there and have a most excellent day!
Bryce: Over and out.
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