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Woo v Spencer: Endgame math workshop at the University of Newcastle encourages students to continue study

17 Sep 2019

SISP Program

This article by Phoebe Moloney originally appeared in the Newcastle Herald on 4 September 2019. View Here.

Almost 2000 students from 30 primary and secondary schools witnessed two of Australia's best mathematics communicators go head-to-head at the University of Newcastle on Wednesday, as part of a workshop encouraging students to continue their study of mathematics.

Comedian and author Adam Spencer and Australia's Local Hero of 2019, teacher Eddie Woo, traded mathematical facts and demonstrated how math was relevant to everything from Shakespeare to DNA.

Spencer said the best way to engage students in the subject was "telling beautiful stories about gorgeous numbers". 

Eddie Woo, a Sydney secondary math teacher who has been dubbed the "Kim Kardashian" of mathematics for the lessons he publishes on YouTube, shared one of his favourite anecdotes about numbers. 

"Something people often don't know is that knots are mathematical objects, like the ones in your shoelaces," Woo said.

"Also our genetic code is folded in a way that creates these tiny knots, and those knots help keep us alive." 

University of Newcastle alumnus Jessica Pritchard shared her experience studying a Bachelor of Mathematics at the university. She now works for mining equipment company WesTrac as a customer service manager.

She encouraged girls to consider a future in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

"There is an issue with the confidence gap between men and women. Women are not better or worse than men at math, but they rank themselves at a much lower level of confidence when asked about the subject," she said.

"I spend lots of my day playing with excavators, that doesn't scream maths, but I use those skills every day and know they are valued."

The Woo v Spencer: Endgame workshop was organised by the Department of Education's Stem Industry School Partnerships Program in collaboration with the University of Newcastle. 

Associate Professor of Statistics and Associate Dean of Outreach and Engagement Peter Howley said math's reputation as a "highfalutin" area of study was a challenge to all educators.

"We need to break that mold and get students to realise all the exciting things that actually apply the skills they started learning in school," he said.