Maths is beautiful... wait, what?
Australian Local Hero 2018 Eddie Woo teaches the elegance of God’s design
Eddie Woo, the high school mathematics teacher and internet sensation who delivered the Australia Day Address at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music on Tuesday, says he is not a teacher who is a Christian; he is a Christian who is a teacher.
The dynamic and innovative head mathematics teacher at Cherrybrook Technology High School is 2018’s Australian Local Hero. He also is the star of Wootube videos which have more than 100,000 subscribers and have been watched more than 11 million times by viewers across the world.
Eddie Woo says it’s no exaggeration to state that his faith is the reason he became a teacher.
“My understanding of the reason people are given the gifts they have is to serve those around them, both in the Christian context and the world,” he told Eternity today.
“I’ve been a teacher for ten years and I’ve had a lot of time and opportunity and reason to think about the ways that my faith defines the way I teach. I’m not a teacher who’s a Christian. I’m a Christian who’s a teacher.”
He explains that you only have to scratch a little beneath the surface of any subject to find the design of God in it, but with mathematics it’s so obvious.
“My faith is integral to my identity and what I do.” – Eddie Woo
“We talk about the fact that the universe is designed in this way and you can find all of these patterns; do you think that that’s a coincidence? One of the things I love to point out is we call the universe the cosmos which means ordered and structured and designed, as opposed to chaos, and the reason why we can find these mathematical principles is because there was a designer. We didn’t just spring into being. It has immense beauty.
“I mean, how can it be that mathematicians and physicians – secular ones – all agree that one of the primary criteria for judging whether something is mathematically true or not is whether the equations are beautiful. Why on earth should the equations of the earth be beautiful? And the answer is we have a beautiful designer who designs things beautifully. So for me it’s a source of marvelling at the way that God crafted the Universe.”
Eddie said it was important to him to mention his faith in his Australia Day address, even though it was a tricky thing to do, because, “we have a responsibility to be a light to the world … obviously I was not invited to give a sermon or anything like that but just to show that my faith is integral to my identity and what I do.”
Born in Sydney, Eddie said his Chinese-Malaysian parents took him and his brother and sister to church as children because they thought Australia was a broadly Christian nation. He first heard and accepted the gospel as explained in simple terms by his older brother, Kevin, who had always been trustworthy and reliable, “so, why not?”
“I had great Christian teachers who gave me a glimpse into how people can live out their faith in a secular context.” – Eddie Woo
But it was only when he was in Year 9 at school that he began to fully trust Christ.
“For the first time I actually saw people at school – students who were maybe two or three years older than me – and the faith they had. I recognised that it changed their character and their decisions day to day – for many of them it changed the whole trajectory of their lives, which was a revelation to me.
“So it’s not just an activity like the other ones that you do. I do soccer on Fridays and I do swimming on Saturdays and do church on Sundays, I realised, oh, this is something else. It’s about the root of my identity.”
Eddie says the Christian role models at school were a factor in his choosing to become a teacher.
“I realised like, ‘wow, people are coming to school and they’re 11 or 12 years old, they leave and they’re 17 or 18 and the transformation that happens in that short space of time is so deep and profound,” he said.
“And I had great Christian teachers who showed me – I went to a public selective school, so it wasn’t a Christian school – they gave me a glimpse into how people can live out their faith in a secular context but demonstrating their faith in a way that makes a difference in other people’s lives.”
In his Australia Day address, Eddie mentioned how being harassed and isolated by bullies for being different had soured his early school experiences, but he told Eternity he harboured no bitterness over their cruel treatment of him.
“When was I going through that at school, when I had those difficulties, I was too immature as a Christian really for it to have an impact on the way that I dealt with that – I was really very young – but as I got older, the truth I understand from the Bible about human nature, about forgiveness, about how to interact.
“In the Australia Day address I talked about the importance of diversity and after the speech people came to me of a variety of ages, younger and older, and said ‘your experience of bullying was exactly the same as mine. Mine was 30 years ago but you described it in exactly the same way and surely we’ve passed this already as an Australian society?’
“And as a Christian I know that it’s not about society moving forward, it’s actually about the sinful nature of every single human being who’s born afraid of those who are different, with a natural inclination to judge others. That’s why in Christ unity across every different line is such a profound thing because normal human nature can’t do that.
“I don’t need to harbour any bitterness of people who did this to me as a child because I know, yes, they were being cruel and unkind at that time but they were also victims. They were subject to their own sinful nature that made them selfish and judge others because they were trying to find their own identity too. And in that way I can find a way to forgive them and know that this is not something that I need be resentful about but something I want to work towards and change.”
A father of three small children, Eddie attends Castle Hill Baptist Church. As well as his work at Cherrybrook High, he is a volunteer facilitator with the University of Sydney’s Widening Participation and Outreach program, where he has guided and motivated more than 1400 students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
In 2015 he won the Premier’s Prize for Innovation in Science and Mathematics in NSW; in 2016 he gained the ChooseMATHS Teacher Excellence Award. Last year Sydney University honoured him with its Alumni Award: Outstanding Achievements for Young Alumni and gained Commonwealth Bank Teaching Fellowship.
He has been named as one of the top 10 teachers in the world and will travel to Dubai to attend the Global Education and Skills Forum, where the $US1 million Global Teacher Prize will be awarded on March 18.
He is currently writing a book on the beauty and usefulness of mathematics in layman’s terms.