It was his YouTube channel Wootube (of course!) that brought him to the public eye in 2012. The site quickly amassed millions of views; to date almost 60 million people have seen his work. The high school teachers straightforward, personable, real-world approach and genuine enthusiasm is clearly infectious.
"I love mathematics," he declares at the beginning of his TED Talk. "It's exactly the thing to say at a party if you want to spend the next couple of hours sipping your drink alone in the least cool corner of the room."
The idea of filming classes came to him when a student was diagnosed with cancer. I remembered struggling through mathematics when I was his age and thought the camera in my pocket has a pretty decent resolution, maybe it would be more useful than sending home work and crossing my fingers, Woo says. It seemed I was scratching an itch that I didnt even know existed. People around the country and indeed around the world mathematics is a universal language after all had been tuning in.
In 2018, Woo was nominated as Australian of the Year and then listed as one of the top 10 teachers in the world by the Global Teacher Prize. Now an education ambassador for Sydney University, he teaches maths and technology at Cherrybrook High School and is a policy adviser for the New South Wales Education Department.
Growing up with parents who migrated to Australia from Malaysia "with little more than the shirts on their backs", Woo says his approach to money is generally frugal. When I go to the shops, I still have that mentality of tightening my belt and not being a big spender, he says. I still have that poor uni student mindset.
Kinn Niyom's pad Thai with chicken and tom yum soup.Credit:Janie Barrett
Family background can influence behaviours in Teenage Boss. The kids show varying degrees of responsibility; some are remarkably astute and insightful, others not so much. A classic area for mishaps involves food under catering to the familys needs or going hard on treats.
One boy loved pickles ... he just bought jar after jar of pickles. He didnt realise this is not a food group, you cannot live on pickles alone, Woo says. "He soon realised being boss doesnt just mean 'I get to call the shots', it means people will not necessarily be happy with me.
For them to realise that that fiscal power comes with not only responsibility but also accountability, its a real eye-opener.
One family spends thousands a month on coffee the equivalent of another familys entire budget for the month. Again and again, we see the teenagers rethinking things they thought they knew. Its something teachers know: the hypercorrection effect, whereby you think you know something but are confronted with the fact you are wrong and how much you have to reassess it.
Receipt for lunch with Eddie Woo.
So, when is the right time to talk to children about finances? Its never too soon, Woo says, to help them appreciate the cost of things - not just the price of things but the full cost in terms of money and time and other options being sacrificed. Most families wait far too long and includes himself in that: I waited until I moved out!
Extensive online experience meant Woo was ideally positioned to deal with remote learning this year. At a meeting in March, his principal addressed staff about the pandemic-driven move to online learning. "There are 135 teachers at my school and I just suddenly felt that feeling, you know, when all these eyes are looking at you.
I wonder if COVID-19 means our kids are growing up more quickly. The kind of news they interact with is completely different today, he says. His nine-year-old knows about the Black Lives Matter movement, for example, while he knew nothing of the civil rights movement at that age. He is concerned that very young children have to grapple with hugely challenging issues but aren't equipped to deal with them. "One thing we cant forget is their emotional needs and their emotional maturity. I dont think they are growing up any quicker than I did their emotional intelligence hasnt changed."
Today Woo is in relative freedom in Sydney, able to teach face-to-face again. Despite his online and TV success, he is passionate about working in schools. The short answer is I love being in the classroom, my intent is to stay there as a long as possible. Its what animates me and gives me energy.
When explaining why mathematics matters, Woo says it is an incredibly powerful tool - and it's everywhere. A project he worked on recently with the Sydney Opera House looked at the role of maths in Jorn Utzon's design of those magnificent, instantly recognisable sails.
Asked to provide an example of maths in the environment, he cites the most timely of all: viruses, which are made up of simple mathematical shapes. Picture a cube but in place of squares, imagine a series of 20 triangles. There are tens of thousands of viruses across the world that are made in this very simple shape, called an icosahedral.
Were living and breathing these pieces of geometry that have ground our world to a halt, Woo says. Geometry can be a thing of great beauty in the natural world but its also something that can create great danger.
Teenage Boss screens at 6.30pm Mondays from August 31 on ABC ME and ABC iview. Eddie Woos Magical Maths 2 is published in September.
The bill, please:
Kinn Niyom Thai, shop 7, Castle Tower Shopping Centre, Castle Hill; (02) 9899 5669
Sun-Wed 11.30am-2.45pm; 5pm-9:30pm; Thurs-Sat 11.30am-2:45pm; 5pm-9:45pm
Kerrie is a senior culture writer at The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald
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