Eddie Woo

Eddie Woo undertook a Bachelor of Education (Honours) in Secondary Mathematics and Information Technology. He taught for 6 years at James Ruse Agricultural High School and led the development of online learning spaces, pioneering the use of collaborative web tools in classrooms. Eddie is currently Head Teacher Mathematics at Cherrybrook Technology High School (CTHS), Executive Member at the Mathematical Association of NSW, winner of the NSW Premier's Prize for Innovation in Mathematics Education and the creator of Wootube.

1. Could you tell us about yourself, your background, and what made you decide to become a maths teacher?

Eddie Woo: I was born and raised in Sydney to migrant parents - my background is Malaysian-Chinese. I was always taught to work hard at school - my parents made it very clear that we lived in this country because it offered an education that could secure my future.

I had a particular pair of teachers - Mr. Best my music teacher and Mr. Brown my agriculture teacher - who modelled for me that being a teacher is an unparalleled opportunity for serving and positively influencing individuals in the next generation. They taught me through their actions that they cared for every student they taught. At the same time, through my participation and leadership of various extra-curricular groups as a student, I discovered that I really enjoyed seeing others learn. It didn't matter what I was helping someone to understand - how to pitch a tent, how to march in unison, how to understand authorial intent, how to construct a diagram in circle geometry - I just fell in love with seeing the "aha" moment in a person's eyes when an idea finally clicked in their mind.

Those were the things that motivated me towards teaching as a career; as for why I pursued mathematics, I simply wanted to serve as an educator in whatever field I could be most useful, and my strong background in maths seemed to match up with an acute shortage of passionate and trained maths teachers.

2. Could you tell us a little bit about where you’re currently teaching?

Eddie Woo: CTHS is a public school in Sydney’s northwest, and the largest secondary school in NSW with over 1900 students. We have a hugely diverse student body, with 59% of students having a language background other than English, and our high student population allows us to offer a broad curriculum across every key learning area. Cherrybrook regularly performs at the top end of the academic spectrum, with 80% of our graduating year 12 students enrolling in university directly after school.

Since there are so many students, there are also many teachers, and in the mathematics department I jointly lead a team of 20 staff. It’s a genuine challenge to work with such a large group, but it’s wonderful to have a faculty with such a range of skills and experiences that is passionate about our students’ learning.

3. What are your happiest memories about your time here as a student? Did you have a favourite spot on campus or a favourite Professor?

Eddie Woo: I loved being part of a community that dedicated itself as a matter of principle to considering the big issues that faced our society and culture today, and thinking hard about what we needed to do to address them. Like many others, I went through something of an existential crisis as I realised that the world I was about to enter as a teacher was very far from the idealised version I’d had in my head as a high school student choosing my future career, and it was through the people I surrounded myself with that I was able to work through those issues and find my way through the struggle for meaning in my study and work. In fact, some of my fondest memories are from sitting in Manning and Wentworth in long arguments about the purpose of education and the best ways to effect genuine social change in a lasting way. Those discussions, and the conclusions I drew all those years ago, have stayed with me ever since and still inform the way I go about my work today.

4. Given your experience as a teacher, what is the mantra you live by and what drives you?

Eddie Woo: The single most important idea for me as a teacher is that just like air is the medium for sound, relationships are the medium for learning. We always learn best from those teachers whom we can connect with and form a positive working relationship: teachers who we feel like we can labour alongside and push ourselves to reach our creative and academic potential. I’ve always sought to be the kind of teacher who cares about students first and subject second, so that my students can actually catch a love for learning from their personal experience in the classroom. Everything else flows from that.

5. What advice would you give to new Teachers graduating from the University of Sydney? Do you have any secret methods to keep your students engaged in the classroom?

Eddie Woo: In your early years, focus on the essence of what it is to be a teacher; resist the urge to be attracted to shiny things that won’t necessarily have a lasting effect. Understand your curriculum and the way the concepts and ideas connect to each other. Master the art of body language and learn how it can radically change the dynamic in your day-to-day workings with individuals and groups of students. Think hard about the purpose of assessment and how to craft a task so that it is a real reflection of a student’s understanding and an opportunity for them to learn and grow. All of these things are timeless, and they will inform the way you do all the other things that will change and evolve as time goes on.

6. What is the mantra you live by and what drives you?

Eddie Woo: Mathematics is about patterns and relationships, which is why it is found in so many walks of life. Life and reality are, after all, webs of interconnected people, forces and objects that mutually affect each other. Such things may seem random at first, but looking at them through the lens of mathematics allows us to understand the principles that guide them and then interact with them in ways that bring benefit to everyone. It might help us design a mirror whose geometry allows a massive space telescope to see back in time to the Big Bang, or organise the fares on a motorway to minimise traffic congestion, or help us make sure we save enough money to survive that rainy day emergency that is bound to come for us. These are skills our society desperately needs; when we study maths, we lay the foundation for humanity’s future.

But maths is even more than just useful. Understanding patterns and relationships is deeply satisfying, and appreciating them in an aesthetic way is food for the soul. Maths explains why a sunflower’s seeds spiral in the way they do, maths explains the sprawling shape of a river delta meeting the ocean, and maths explains why bees around the world build their honeycombs in such a perfectly hexagonal arrangement. These are ideas that enrich our lives; when we study maths, we open the door to seeing our world through new eyes.

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