Lesson Videos

I upload videos of my classroom mathematics lessons to my YouTube channel. If you’d like to use them to help you learn, search for the relevant topic below within the section that relates to you:

A few other points for you to be aware of:

  • These topics are aligned to the NSW Mathematics curriculum. If you live in another Australian state or territory, please use the Mathspace + Wootube portal.
  • Some topics below have “related content” – this includes videos that explain connected skills and concepts, but may not be within the scope of the syllabus.
  • In some lessons, I teach multiple topics so they don’t fit neatly into a heading below. You can find those videos in Mixed Topics.
  • As part of enrichment classes, I’ve taught several concepts that aren’t related directly to the syllabus. You can find those in Mathematical Exploration.

Stage 4 Mathematics (Years 7 & 8)

Number & Algebra
Topic This playlist includes…
Computation with Integers Ordering & calculating with whole numbers
Fractions, Decimals and Percentages Operating & converting between number forms
Basic Financial Mathematics Purchasing goods
Basic Ratios & Rates Operations and graphical representation
Basic Algebraic Techniques Introduction to algebra & pronumerals
Basic Indices Operations with positive integer & zero indices
Basic Equations Solving simple equations
Basic Linear Relationships Number patterns & straight line graphs
Measurement & Geometry
Topic This playlist includes…
Measuring Basic Shapes Length, area & volume
Time Units of time & time zones
Pythagoras’ Theorem Calculating side lengths
Basic Properties of Geometrical Figures Classify shapes; congruent triangles
Angle Relationships Angle properties, parallel lines (and related content)
Statistics & Probability
Topic This playlist includes…
Data Collection & Representation Surveys, graphs & charts
Basic Single Variable Analysis Measures of location & range
Basic Probability Chance of simple & compound events


Stage 5 Mathematics (Years 9 & 10)

Number & Algebra
Topic This playlist includes…
Further Financial Mathematics Earning, Spending & Investing
Further Ratios and Rates Proportion problems & working with graphs
Further Algebraic Techniques Algebraic fractions & quadratic expressions
Further Indices Operations with negative & fractional indices
Further Equations Solving quadratic, cubic & simultaneous equations (and related content)
Further Linear Relationships Coordinate geometry techniques (and related content)
Non-Linear Relationships Sketching & interpreting curved graphs
Polynomials Sketching, factor & remainder theorem
Logarithms Define logarithms & use laws
Functions & Other Graphs Use function notation & sketch graphs
Measurement & Geometry
Topic This playlist includes…
Measuring Further Shapes Area, surface area & volume
Numbers of Any Magnitude Scientific notation & significant figures
Trigonometry Angles & sides in triangles
Further Properties of Geometrical Figures Similar figures, geometric reasoning (and related content)
Circle Geometry Deductive arguments with circle theorems
Statistics & Probability
Topic This playlist includes…
Further Single Variable Analysis Quartiles, box plots, standard deviation
Bivariate Analysis Relationships between two variables
Further Probability Multi-step experiments (and related content)


Mathematics Standard 2

Year 11
MS-A1 Formulae and Equations
MS-A2 Linear Relationships
MS-M1 Applications of Measurement (and related content)
MS-M2 Working with Time
MS-F1 Money Matters
MS-S1 Data Analysis (and related content)
MS-S2 Relative Frequency and Probability

Year 12
MS-A4 Types of Relationships
MS-M6 Non-right-angled Trigonometry
MS-M7 Working with Rates and Ratios
MS-F4 Investments and Loans
MS-F5 Annuities
MS-S4 Bivariate Data Analysis (no specific content, but see related content in MA-S2)
MS-S5 The Normal Distribution
MS-N2 Network Concepts
MS-N3 Critical Path Analysis

Mathematics Advanced

Year 11
MA-F1 Working with Functions (and related content)
MA-T1 Trigonometry and Measure of Angles
MA-T2 Trigonometric Functions and Identities (and related content)
MA-C1 Introduction to Differentiation
MA-E1 Logarithms and Exponentials (and related content)
MA-S1 Probability and Discrete Probability Distributions

Year 12
MA-F2 Graphing Techniques (and related content)
MA-T3 Trigonometric Functions and Graphs (and related content)
MA-C2 Differential Calculus (and related content)
MA-C3 Applications of Differentiation (and related content)
MA-C4 Integral Calculus (and related content)
MA-M1 Modelling Financial Situations (and related content)
MA-S2 Descriptive Statistics & Bivariate Data Analysis
MA-S3 Random Variables

Mathematics Extension 1

Year 11
ME-F1 Further Work with Functions (and related content)
ME-F2 Polynomials (and related content)
ME-T1 Inverse Trigonometric Functions (and related content)
ME-T2 Further Trigonometric Identities (and related content)
ME-C1 Rates of Change
ME-A1 Working with Combinatorics

Year 12
ME-P1 Introduction to Proof by Mathematical Induction
ME-V1 Introduction to Vectors
ME-T3 Trigonometric Equations
ME-C2 Further Calculus Skills
ME-C3 Applications of Calculus (and related content)
ME-S1 The Binomial Distribution

Mathematics Extension 2

Year 12
MEX-P1 The Nature of Proof
MEX-P2 Further Proof by Mathematical Induction
MEX-V1 Further Work with Vectors
MEX-N1 Introduction to Complex Numbers
MEX-N2 Using Complex Numbers
MEX-C1 Further Integration (and related content)
MEX-M1 Applications of Calculus to Mechanics (and related content)

Books + TV

My first book, Woo’s Wonderful World of Maths, is published in Australia and New Zealand by Pan Macmillan. It was also released in North America as It’s A Numberful World, published by The Experiment.

My children’s activity book, Eddie Woo’s Magical Maths, is inspired by the mathematical stories in Woo’s Wonderful World of Maths. It’s especially written for children ages 7-12.

I’m the host of a children’s TV show called Teenage Boss, broadcast in Australia by the ABC. It’s currently available to stream on ABC iView.

Praise for Woo’s Wonderful World of Maths

“Not just a great teacher Woo’s Wonderful World shows Eddie to be a storyteller too. Is there anything the Woo cannot do?” – Adam Spencer, Ambassador for Mathematics, University of Sydney

“Maths is just another “language” – and Eddie Woo makes it so easy and fun.” – Karl Kruszelnicki, Julius Sumner Miller Fellow, The University of Sydney

“A sweeping tour de force of how to engage people with mathematics.” – Matt Parker, author, comedian and maths communicator

“I never thought I’d read a maths book cover to cover, let alone sing its praises. Eddie Woo makes maths fun, accessible and relevant. Now we can all benefit from his extraordinary skill as a teacher.” – Jenny Brockie, journalist and TV host

“Eddie Woo’s gift is in using stories to help us see the way maths breathes life, colour, shape, and rhythm into the world around us. He’s transformed the lives of countless students in his classroom and on Wootube. Now he’s here to change how you see numbers too – whether you think you have a mathematical mind or not!” – Natasha Mitchell, science journalist and radio host

“Eddie Woo is an inspirational maths teacher. Why? Because he can also communicate, connect and write.” – Jane Caro, author

“Learning mathematics is like climbing the stairs of a skyscraper. It’s difficult and can seem utterly pointless. Some educators scream at us from a 10th story window as we look up at them in confusion. Eddie greets you at the foyer and is there beside you while you take each and every step. And once at the observation deck, he’s admiring the beautiful vista with you. Eddie is more than just the maths teacher we all wanted. Eddie is the maths teacher we all need.” – Simon Pampena, Australian Numeracy Ambassador, Numberphile Star

“For a mathematician, Eddie Woo is one helluva storyteller. An excellent and important read from beginning to end.” – Maxine McKew, Honorary Enterprise Professor University of Melbourne

“You probably know acclaimed math teacher Eddie Woo through watching his excellent videos on his WooTube channel. Well, now there is a book, and it’s a winner. A compendium of short essays where Mr. Woo shows how mathematics lies just beneath the surface in practically every aspect of our lives. What makes it sing is that his engaging personality shines through on every page, just as much as it does on video when he is in front of a class.” – Keith Devlin, Stanford university mathematician and author of many popular mathematics books

“Enthusiastic, energetic Eddie Woo explores mathematics in ways that reveal how human and beautiful it is.” – Nalini Joshi, mathematician, University of Sydney

About Eddie

I teach mathematics in Sydney, Australia. Since November 2012, I have uploaded videos of my actual classroom lessons to Youtube to share learning resources with the world. You can view a brief introduction to my channel, watch a lengthier (7 minute) presentation that explains some of my motivation for doing this, or hear a detailed (16 minute) explanation about the flipped classroom concept.

Main channel: youtube.com/misterwootube
Second channel: youtube.com/misterwootube2 (for teachers)
Twitter: twitter.com/misterwootube
Facebook: fb.com/misterwootube
Instagram: instagr.am/misterwootube
LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/misterwootube

Roles
Classroom teacher, Cherrybrook Technology High School
Leader of Mathematics Growth, NSW Department of Education
Education Ambassador, University of Sydney / Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences
Author
Woo’s Wonderful World of Maths (It’s a Numberful World in the US)
Eddie Woo’s Magical Maths (children’s activity book)
Host, Teenage Boss
Advisory Board, UNSW Gonski Institute
Board of Trustees, Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences
Charity Ambassador, ausEE Inc.
Fellow, Royal Society of New South Wales
TED speaker, (“Mathematics is the sense you never knew you had“, TEDxSydney)

Awards
2019 Western Sydney University Honorary Fellowship
2019 “40 Under 40” Most Influential Asian-Australian Awards
– Education category winner
2018 Australia’s Local Hero
National ceremony – 25 January 2018
Media scrum – 25 January 2018
ABC News Breakfast – 26 January 2018
Sunrise – 26 January 2018
TODAY Show – 26 January 2018
Sky News – 26 January 2018
Eddie and his Wootube channel win Australia Day recognition – ABC News
Wootube helps Sydney maths teacher scoop Australian Local Hero award – SBS News
The Australian teacher changing lives across the globe – 4BC Brisbane radio
Maths teacher Eddie Woo is Australia’s Local Hero – ABC Radio National
Cherrybrook Technology High School teacher wins Local Hero award – Hills News
Teaching needs a lift in status – Sydney Morning Herald
2018 Top 10 Global Teacher Prize
Announcement video – Varkey Foundation
Eddie Woo named ‘among world’s top 10 teachers’ – The Australian, 15 Feb 2018 (direct link, may lead to paywall)
Woo-hoo! Eddie could scoop $1.2m education prize – Daily Telegraph, 14 Feb 2018
Eddie Woo on reducing students’ maths anxiety – Teacher Magazine, 15 Feb 2018
Aussie Teacher Named As One Of The World’s Top 10 Educators – 2DayFM interview, 15 Feb 2018
Eddie Woo in Top 10 Teachers – Schools Plus
Global Teacher Prize 2018 Top 50 finalists announced – Teacher Magazine
Teachers in the running for Global Prize – The Educator
2018 Gold Harold
2017 Commonwealth Bank Teaching Fellowship
Videos woo students – Hills News
More Than Numbers – The Australian Education Reporter
2017 Sydney University Alumni Award: Outstanding Achievements for Young Alumni
2016 CHOOSEMATHS Teacher Excellence Award
Excellence award for Wootube master – Hills News
2015 Premier’s Prize for Innovation in Science and Mathematics Education in NSW

Television features
Channelling Mr. Woo – Australian Story 1 May 2017
Channelling Mr. Woo² – Australian Story refreshed episode 19 March 2018
ABC Q&A Education Special – October 2018
Advice To My Younger Self – November 2018
Eddie Woo changing the face of mathematics teaching – ABC News 1 May 2017
BBC World News – 22 March 2018
Studio 10 – 31 January 2018
The Drum – 22 January 2018
National Wrap – 25 February 2018
Jones & Co – 30 January 2018
SKY News – 20 January 2018
The AM Show (New Zealand) – 10 May 2017
Weekend Sunrise – 8 May 2017
“A Teacher Changed My Life” on SBS Insight (7 March 2017 – full episode available)
The 7:30 Report (9 December 2016 – transcript available)

News Coverage
2018 Australia Day Address (23 January 2018 – transcript available)
A lesson from Eddie Woo: Be a mathematician on Australia Day – Sydney Morning Herald
Why Eddie Woo used Australia Day to bring us all together – Daily Telegraph
ABC News on the 2018 Australia Day Address
Let educators get on with actual teaching – Opinion piece
Australia Day Address delivered by Youtube sensation – University of Sydney
Eddie Woo explains some of his favourites
Ranked 3rd Most Powerful Education Influencer in the Australian Financial Review (direct link, may lead to paywall)
Eddie Woo visits Warrnambool to share knowledge – Warrnambool Standard 21 May 2018
‘He Woo-ed us’: Rockstar maths teacher makes magic in Canberra schools – Canberra Times 14 May 2018
Kooringal High hosted Eddie Woo the ‘super’ maths teacher for a workshop with students – Daily Advertiser 8 Mar 2018
Eddie Woo scores roving role to teach the teachers how to inspire – Daily Telegraph 6 Mar 2018
YouTube maths sensation Eddie Woo wows crowd at James Fallon High School – Border Mail 9 Mar 2018
The teacher you wish you had: Woo wows audiences in Griffith – Area News 8 Mar 2018
Faith & Formulae: A Chat with Eddie Woo, Maths Teacher & Youtube Star (Hope 103.2 interview 5 Jun 2017)
Celebrity maths teacher on how to get smart kids into teaching – 2016 Profile in the Sydney Morning Herald
Wootube your way to better results in mathematics – Profile in The Australian (direct link, may lead to paywall)
Eddie Woo’s maths program Wootube proves a hit – 2015 Profile in the Sydney Morning Herald
Profile in the Berliner Morgenpost (web page is in German)
Profile in La Vanguardia (web page is in Spanish)
“What makes a good teacher?” Article featuring me in The Australian (direct link, may lead to paywall)
Sydney teacher Eddie Woo’s mathematics videos made him a viral sensation – Herald Sun Kids News

Publications
Woo’s Wonderful World of Maths – paperback published by Pan Macmillan
It’s a Numberful World – US edition of Woo’s Wonderful World of Maths, published by The Experiment
Eddie Woo’s Magical Maths – children’s activity book published by Pan Macmillan
Key To Human Flourishing – opinion editorial published by The Sydney Morning Herald
It Takes A School – opinion editorial published by The Guardian
A Design For Life – cover feature published by Times Educational Supplement
How To Help Your Child With Maths – article published by The Daily Telegraph

Audio
Don’t Fear Math – interview with Guy Raz for TED Radio Hour
Why Maths Matters – my interview of Steven Strogatz on What Keeps Me Awake for ABC Radio National
Radio interview 10 Oct 2016 – recorded live on 702 Mornings with Wendy Harmer
ABC Sydney: Drive radio interview 1 May 2017 – interviewed by Richard Glover
ABC Melbourne: Afternoons interview 1 May 2017 – interviewed by Clare Bowditch
2CC Canberra interview 4 May 2017 – interviewed by Tim Shaw
ABC Radio National – interview on Life Matters with Natasha Mitchell
What Works Best with Eddie WooCESE podcast
Interview with Corinne Campbell for the TER Podcast
Interview with Louka Parry and Maddy Scott-Jones for the Educhange Podcast
Interview with Monica Samayoa for 2SER 107.3FM
Interview with Robbie Buck for ABC Sydney: Breakfast
Interview with Ross Greenwood and Charlie Brown for Money News
Interview with Valerie Khoo for Sydney Lunar Festival
Interview with Shevonne Hunt for Kinderling Kids Radio
Interview with Ricardo Gutierrez for Innovator Diaries
Interview with Andy Dowling for the Andy Social Podcast
Interview with Ky Chow for On The Other Hand
Interview with Maxine McKew for Talking Teaching
Interview with Dave Jorna for Do Life Better
Interview with Andrew Leigh for The Good Life

Magazines & other press
Woo-hoo! Teaching kids to love maths – Curtin University
Maths is beautiful… wait, what? – Eternity News
Hate mathematics? Eddie Woo’s WooTube might just be what you are looking for to make Maths fun – International Business Times
Meet Australia’s most famous maths teacher – News.com.au
This inspiring teacher’s ‘Wootube’ channel is making math fun again – Mashable
Story of a legendary teacher – Careers with STEM
How good your child is at maths has less to do with ability, and more to do with you – Mamamia
Mister Wootube: a virtual master – Australian Teacher Magazine
Profile by Australia Plus (includes video in English and Indonesian)
Profile in Future Leaders magazine
Profile in Sydney Observer magazine
ABC Splash: Profile / How parents can encourage their kids to love maths
Profile by NIU Schools (web page is in Chinese)
Interview with Sydney University Alumni Connections
Recording of a talk I gave at Google’s office for their Google@School conference in 2013
Video of a webinar for Scootle Community when I was one of the guest presenters
Storify • #ozftchat Nov 2014 (Twitter chat) that I hosted
Storify • part 1part 2 of #aussieED Jul 2015 (Twitter chat) that I hosted
Storify • #PSTchat Mar 2017 (Twitter chat) where I was a guest
Meet the Aussie teacher who’s making maths go viral – Nickelodeon Jr.
Australia’s Most Famous Maths Teacher is an Asian Dude – YOMYOMF
Australia’s Best Math Teacher is a Super Fly Asian Man – NextShark
Eddie Woo is the coolest maths teacher ever – A* Magazine
Presenter profile at Centre for Professional Learning
Have Spencer and Woo problems for you
And then there was that one time I was featured on 9GAG

I wrote a book!!

Woo’s Wonderful World of Maths – out September 25! International pre-orders open now.

For the last two years, I’ve been writing a book. It’s about all the awesome stuff I’ve encountered that helped me see the beauty of mathematics – and appreciate how it truly is all around us!

I’ve held back from saying anything up until now because I feel like my generation is super-obsessed with posting on social media about doing things… without actually getting out there and doing something. So now that this thing is almost ready to hit shelves thanks to my publisher Pan Macmillan, I thought it was time to get excited about it!

Some of my friends have had the opportunity to read Woo’s Wonderful World of Maths and this is what they’ve said about it:

“Not just a great teacher Woo’s Wonderful World shows Eddie to be a storyteller too. Is there anything the Woo cannot do?” – Adam Spencer, Ambassador for Mathematics, University of Sydney

“Maths is just another “language” – and Eddie Woo makes it so easy and fun.” – Karl Kruszelnicki, Julius Sumner Miller Fellow, The University of Sydney

“A sweeping tour de force of how to engage people with mathematics.” – Matt Parker, author, comedian and maths communicator

“I never thought I’d read a maths book cover to cover, let alone sing its praises. Eddie Woo makes maths fun, accessible and relevant. Now we can all benefit from his extraordinary skill as a teacher.” – Jenny Brockie, journalist and TV host

“Eddie Woo’s gift is in using stories to help us see the way maths breathes life, colour, shape, and rhythm into the world around us. He’s transformed the lives of countless students in his classroom and on Wootube. Now he’s here to change how you see numbers too – whether you think you have a mathematical mind or not!” – Natasha Mitchell, science journalist and radio host

“Eddie Woo is an inspirational maths teacher. Why? Because he can also communicate, connect and write.” – Jane Caro, author

“Learning mathematics is like climbing the stairs of a skyscraper. It’s difficult and can seem utterly pointless. Some educators scream at us from a 10th story window as we look up at them in confusion. Eddie greets you at the foyer and is there beside you while you take each and every step. And once at the observation deck, he’s admiring the beautiful vista with you. Eddie is more than just the maths teacher we all wanted. Eddie is the maths teacher we all need.” – Simon Pampena, Australian Numeracy Ambassador, Numberphile Star

“For a mathematician, Eddie Woo is one helluva storyteller. An excellent and important read from beginning to end.” – Maxine McKew, Honorary Enterprise Professor University of Melbourne

“You probably know acclaimed math teacher Eddie Woo through watching his excellent videos on his WooTube channel. Well, now there is a book, and it’s a winner. A compendium of short essays where Mr. Woo shows how mathematics lies just beneath the surface in practically every aspect of our lives. What makes it sing is that his engaging personality shines through on every page, just as much as it does on video when he is in front of a class.” – Keith Devlin, Stanford university mathematician and author of many popular mathematics books

“Enthusiastic, energetic Eddie Woo explores mathematics in ways that reveal how human and beautiful it is.” – Nalini Joshi, mathematician, University of Sydney

SBS Insight: A Teacher Changed My Life

Last week I was extremely fortunate to take part in an episode of SBS Insight, titled A Teacher Changed My Life. There were three major stories and three minor ones – I was one of the latter – each comprised of a student and a teacher who had made a big difference in their life.

The thing I loved most about being asked to be on the show was getting to hear the amazing stories of changed lives directly from the mouths of people who clearly would have had a completely different future had a teacher not intervened. It’s a sobering but hopeful reminder of the real and lasting impact that teachers can have on the lives of their students. I highly recommend watching the entire show to hear each of the students tell it from their point of view.

Our episode was filmed on a Wednesday and aired the following Tuesday. During the hour it was broadcast, I was asked to be on Twitter to interact with viewers. Here are some of the things I posted in the lead-up and on the evening itself:

Review: STM dux case for iPad Pro 12.9

Any iPad Pro user who uses the Apple Pencil daily needs a long-term solution for storing the Pencil. As much as I love the iPad Pro, I feel that one of its major design shortcomings is that there is no place to permanently store the Pencil when not in use. Numerous reviews have pointed this out when comparing the iPad Pro to Microsoft’s Surface series (which has a magnetic connection that holds the Surface Pen quite securely), so I won’t labour the point.

I just want to note it at the beginning here because I deliberately ignored this fact and tried to use the iPad Pro for almost an entire year without doing anything to protect the Pencil. And that was a mistake. I did the same thing with the iPhone 4 when I first purchased it; I initially used it without a case and within 3 months the glass back had (predictably) shattered. Similar things happened with my Apple Pencil. First, the cap that protects the Lightning connector fell off and was lost inside the lining of my carry bag (eventually I found it by accident). Second, I left my bag leaning against a cabinet at the end of a school day, and did not realise that the Pencil within the bag was also leaning in the same way. Overnight, the cabinet applied pressure to the rubber tip of the Pencil and by the morning the tip had snapped off. This was particularly problematic because the half of the tip with the screw thread on it remained lodged inside the Pencil itself and was quite difficult to remove. The replacement tips weren’t cheap either!

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That’s why I was really delighted to unwrap the STM iPad Pro dux case. STM very kindly sent me one to see whether it would fit my purposes on a day-to-day basis. The dux is a sturdy shell that covers the back of the iPad Pro so that you can use the Smart Keyboard or Smart Cover if you prefer (as you can see in the images, I do the latter).

img_4666

The rim of the case is a flexible black plastic that snugly houses the iPad, while the backing is a thick, clear and rigid plastic that offers strong protection and allows the branding of the iPad to show through (which is a nice touch). It does add a reasonable amount of thickness to the iPad, which I wish it didn’t, but there’s a good reason for it which I’ll get onto later.

img_4670

The whole case feels solid and keeps the iPad safe from falls and other kinds of damage. I’m very pleased with the build quality and the case rim is a nice balance between rigidity and flexibility so that it doesn’t feel like the iPad will fall out at any time but it’s quite easy to remove the case if you want to.

img_4667

The most important feature for me, as I mentioned above, was that there is a convenient location for the Pencil. It is nestled into a special section on the rim, which is why the case is the thickness that it is; it makes the case wide enough along its edge to store the Pencil without adding any more thickness. (Many of the other cases I’ve seen, such as the one from Studio Proper, position the Pencil in such a way that it sits on the face of back of the iPad and therefore makes the entire profile much thicker.) Just like the case overall, the Pencil holder is firm but flexible. You won’t feel as though it will ever accidentally fall out, and in fact I tend to flex the lip of the Pencil holder slightly outward in order to ease the Pencil out.

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There are other ways to store your Apple Pencil. I’ve seen some very attractive desk holders, and some even charge the Pencil when it’s in the holder. But for someone like me who is constantly leaving my desk (to go to class) and frequently on the move (to visit students or attend meetings), the best option is for a case that can hold the Pencil so it’s always there when I need it. I’ve really enjoyed using the dux case and have more or less gotten used to the extra size it it gives to my device – so I’d happily recommend it to anyone with the iPad Pro who uses the Pencil a lot.

NSW Education Symposium 2016

screen-shot-2016-10-29-at-9-15-31-pmI was incredibly fortunate to receive an invitation to the 2016 NSW Education Symposium, a cross-sector gathering of state leaders in education and industry to discuss – as the conference tagline stated – “future reform directions” for the school system in NSW. It was a pretty incredible group of people, with internationally-renowned speakers and proven educational practitioners sharing the stage. 

As with many others, I was busy on Twitter trying to (a) engage in the conversation and (b) ensure that those who couldn’t be present could get a window into the room. Here are a few of the things I shared, though for a more comprehensive account I definitely recommend Matt Esterman’s full Storify of the #nswedu16 feed.

iPad pro + Apple pencil + 1 mathematics teacher = ?

Articles about pieces of technology generally come in three phases:

  • The first phase comes from the press, who’ve either had access to early versions of the device or are there at the launch event. They have stuff pre-written, primed and ready to go so that as soon as the product is officially announced, people will be able to find something as soon as they hit Google.
  • The second phase comes from the first people who are actually able to buy the product, generally a few weeks later. These are naturally accompanied by the obligatory unboxing videos (a hilariously fascinating genre of content if ever there was one) and generally give first impressions of each device (they can’t give much else because, you know, they just opened the thing 5 minutes ago).
  • The third phase are the “long term” reviews, maybe a month or two later. There are fewer of these because the initial excitement has died down, but people are actually interested in giving their thoughts now that they’ve gotten used to how the device works and can give a more measured explanation of its pros and cons.

And then there are articles like this one, which… well, the iPad Pro was released almost a year ago now. It’s been so long since I first got this device that another iPad Pro has already been released in the intervening time. So why do I think it’s still relevant to write this thing?

Basically, it’s because I’m still getting questions about my iPad Pro wherever I take it. It’s my preferred device for taking notes – so I lug it around with me to any conferences I attend – and pretty much every time I get it out, someone nearby will say, “what is that?” And when I explain that it’s an iPad, I’m almost universally met with surprise. So I guess, despite this tablet’s age, there are still plenty of people out there who don’t know much about it. So hopefully this will give you a bit of a better idea.

This is not a product review. It’s more of a reflection on my specific experience with this pair of devices. But in some ways, it’s the review I couldn’t find. Before I got my hands on an iPad Pro and its surprisingly uncommon accessory, the Apple Pencil, I searched in vain for a review that answered my specific questions. The closest I got was this write-up from AnandTech.

But all of that was to be completely expected, because I’m what you call a very narrow use case. I have very peculiar and idiosyncratic desires and interests in a device like the iPad pro. That’s because I’m a mathematics teacher.

I wouldn’t blame you if you aren’t connecting the dots yet. So let me explain. Though this may not be everyone’s memory of it, the fact is that mathematics is a highly visual subject. From the diagrams of deductive geometry, to the construction and interpretation of graphs, to the notation and equations of calculus – understanding and communicating mathematics is saturated with images and symbols. Not only that, the actual thinking and doing of mathematics usually takes place through the medium of this visual language. Mathematicians think by drawing and writing. Drawing and writing aren’t just representations for communicating mathematical thought; they are mechanisms for constructing mathematical thought. That’s why we call it “working out”.

As a mathematics teacher, I do a lot of this mathematical thinking each day. I do it to remind myself of the processes and common misconceptions in what I teach my students; I do it so my students have solutions to the tests I’ve set them; and I do it to answer questions that my students request help with.

What this means is that I end up using a _lot_ of paper. In the course of a normal school year I will produce hundreds of pages of handwritten notes. People tend to give me a bit of a strange look when they see me scrawling marks on a page, partly because I have a reputation (which is, in some ways, justly deserved) for being really into technology and eschewing traditional ways of doing things. (There’s a false dichotomy operating there – I’ll address that in a minute.) “Why don’t you type those notes? Wouldn’t it be better to have all those notes electronically filed and organised?”

The answer, at least to me, is not straightforward. Yes, it’s great having content in an electronic form. It’s easier to search for myself and to share with others. But there’s a price. Computer keyboards were not designed for entering formulas, equations or mathematical notation. Mice were not built with the construction of mathematical diagrams in mind. That’s not their fault; there are hundreds of other tasks that they excel at. Expressing mathematical thought just isn’t one of them. After more than a decade of practice and thousands of hours using a wide range of software platforms that are intended for this purpose, I still find keyboards and mice a wholly inadequate replacement for a simple pencil and paper. When I enter mathematical script using a keyboard, even though I am quite adept at it, my attention is focused on the typing and not the thinking.

An analogy will help here. I grew up in a bilingual home. My parents moved to Australia from Malaysia more than 40 years ago, so they are fluent in English, but it is definitely not the language they are most comfortable with. Despite their preference to speak in Chinese, they made a very deliberate decision to talk to us primarily in English. But because of their background, they experienced significant difficulties with this. I lost count of the number of times they would pause midsentence, frozen in thought, as they translated on-the-fly from their mother tongue into mine. Sometimes they would simply give up, resorting to finishing their sentence in Chinese and leaving me to try and work out their meaning from the context and their body language. And it is the same for me and mathematics. Analogue input is my mother tongue; I can think in it immediately and without interrupting my flow of thought. So while I recognise the importance of having a lot of my mathematics in electronic form (primarily assessment tasks), I have a hard time imagining doing the lion’s share of my mathematical thinking any other way than with a pencil in my hand.

I guess what I’m saying is that I use different technologies constantly and I love the benefit they bring, but I’ve always been very conscious of the (often hidden) disadvantages they include. Failing to do so always leaves us in an exhausting form of technological idealism, where we are constantly looking at the next big app or device as the “thing that will revolutionize education” – and always leaves us disappointed. (The lesson to learn here is that if someone tells you something has a straightforward solution, they are probably trying to sell you something.) That means I reject the notion that we must completely abandon traditional ways of doing things if we are the kinds of people who embrace technology in the classroom.

I’m convinced that there are healthy ways to combine them for the sake of student learning, which is the real goal – not an attitude one way or the other with regard to technology (which is not the heart of the issue). As a result, I always find conversations that are centred on this technology or that technology to be quite dull. I want to talk about the learners and what they are getting out of the different experiences that various platforms or devices can bring. That’s the real currency I deal in.

Which brings me back to the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil. Almost every single detailed review of the Pencil that I’ve found has been focused on its capacity to enable artistic expression. But my primary interest is in the Pencil’s capacity to enable cognitive expression. And without overstating it, after about ten months of non-stop use, I’m ready to deliver my personal verdict.

I love this thing.

I love it because it supports my learning, my explanations, my organisational structures and my thinking. I’ve found it to be so effective that integrating it into my normal workflow has changed the way I do things as fundamentally as the first time I started using email in the cloud or began storing and manipulating data in spreadsheets rather than word processing documents. There’s been a huge shift. Yet while there’s been a massive amount of change, much of what I’ve done has stayed the same – in fact, in some instances, has become more rooted in ways of the past. It’s a living expression of that tension I was talking to you about before. The iPad Pro and Apple Pencil capture that tension in a unique and powerful way that really resonates with me.

So, I’m a fan. But don’t worry, I recognise that these devices are far from perfect – there are some obvious drawbacks that I also want to point out. First, let’s get down to a bit of context which explains the particular way that I use my iPad Pro.

I already own several devices that bear similarities to the Pro. Most obviously, I have an iPad Air 2 that I use for recording my classroom lessons (which I regularly post onto YouTube). Since this iPad has such a specific purpose, for me it overlaps less with the Pro than you would necessarily think; that’s because the Air sits permanently on top of a tripod in the middle of my classroom during my lessons, so I never connect it to my data projector to show visuals or write lesson notes on it. Its next most common use is to edit and upload those videos. When it isn’t occupied for those purposes, the Air does fill the role of a secondary device quite effectively. Like most people, I use it for light email and internet browsing when I’m away from my desk. Because of its size, it’s very handy just to pick up and go when I have to visit a student or teacher quickly then return to my work station; I can use it easily while standing up or walking, which I think is one of the main benefits of tablets in general.

My primary device is a 13.3 inch Windows laptop. I’ve owned laptops up to 15.6 inch before, but found them too bulky and heavy to carry between my classrooms with all the other gear I lug around on a regular basis (textbooks, exam papers, teacher’s diary, pencil case, my iPad Air and the microphone that goes with it). It’s not just my lack of upper body strength that leads me to say that – during my teaching career I’ve used and broken several carry bags, and the point of failure every time is the straps, indicating that I’m always trying to carry too much stuff. For this reason, I’ve also used 10 and 11 inch netbooks before – but I’ve always found them too much of a compromise to use extensively. The lack of a full size keyboard, the diminutive screen that limits my ability to effectively multi-task (e.g. simultaneously viewing my report spreadsheet while writing my reports in a browser) and the inevitably downsized processor/RAM always prevent me from feeling at home on such a small device.

My 13.3 is a very happy compromise between these extremes for me. It’s a Dell XPS 13 that I purchased about two years ago. The screen is a sufficiently high resolution that I can display as much content as I want, and the combination of a high-spec Core i7 processor with loads of RAM and a very handy solid state drive mean that so far it isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. Significantly, the keyboard is a pleasure to use and I can type on it just as fast as I can on any desktop. This is important because it’s the main reason why I decided not to purchase the Smart Keyboard that was designed to pair with the iPad Pro; if I want to do serious typing, I take my laptop. I never intended for the Pro to be a desktop replacement and I wasn’t interested in seeing if it could perform in that role for me.

So then, those are all the ways I _don’t_ use my iPad Pro. What ways _do_ I use it? There are two apps, apart from standard web browsing and email, that dominate my use of the Pro. They are Google Drive (along with its satellite apps, Docs and Sheets) and Notability, which I’ll talk about in turn.

I’ve been into Google Drive for a long time. Back in 2009 I was the intranet coordinator at my school and I drove the school’s adoption of Google Apps for Education. But I would describe myself as having my feet firmly in two camps when it came to using Docs, Sheets and all cloud-based options in general, because while I loved the principle of having everything accessible on all my internet-enabled devices, there were some practical issues that held me back and kept me committed to using desktop software.

The two main issues were formatting and mobile apps. I know it may sound silly, but my time as a semi-professional web, print and graphic designer has really spoiled me in terms of how much control I need over the typography and typesetting in the documents I work with. Things like font face, weight and spacing convey meaning and emphasis. Table layouts and bulleting structure can make the difference between documents that are clear or opaque. Just like a public speaker who has control over their tone, pitch and speed can communicate better than one who does not, software that permits precise control over visual attributes enables us to make documents that are more really digested and understood by readers.

For a long time, Docs and Sheets simply did not give me the amount of freedom I wanted in designing things. But that has improved markedly over the last couple of years, to the point where I can now create a document entirely in Docs and be happy enough with its layout and fonts that I can go directly to print without going anywhere near a desktop program. There are still a few small things in this area where Docs isn’t perfect, the most notable of which is its support for mathematical equations (which is present, but minimal), but I’ve become more and more impressed as years go by and new features are added (for free, I might add!).

The mobile apps are a similar story. I don’t expect an app on a phone or tablet to give me an identical experience to what I’ll get on a desktop in a browser, but got quite a while there was too far a gap between the two. Remembering that the fully-featured versions of Docs and Sheets are kind of like trimmed down versions of their desktop counterparts, and mobile apps are trimmed down versions of their browser counterparts, you can see that if you were on an iPad you were getting a very lightweight experience of spreadsheets and word processing. But recently, the native iOS apps for Docs, Sheets and Drive have gained a core feature set that makes them genuinely useful and sometimes even a pleasure to work with. More and more, I’ve found myself able to do everything I need on my tablet while in my classroom without needing to return to my desk – it’s been liberating.

That brings me to Notability. As I said earlier, I had a very clear use for my iPad Pro in mind from the beginning, so one of the very first things I did during my initial setup of the Pro was to download every note-taking app I could find. Trawling the internet for reviews and soliciting some of my online contacts for suggestions, I settled on the following list of apps to try:

  • Notes (i.e. the default iOS app)
  • Penultimate
  • OneNote
  • Upad
  • Notability

There are two apps that I installed but did not include on that list – Explain Everything and Doceri. Both of these are screencasting apps, which I was interested in at a basic level, but as I’ve stated above, was not my main intention for the Pro. Neither app is updated for the Pro’s higher resolution yet, so I haven’t invested any time to really give either of them a proper try.

The five apps on my list are, by contrast, note-taking apps through and through. I used each one extensively for about a week before moving onto the next one, so that I could gain a deep sense of each app’s strengths and shortcomings. So here’s my app-by-app overview:

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Notability came out as the clear front-runner. Probably the two most distinctive and frequently useful features were (1) its ability to modify text/diagrams after they are written/drawn and (2) its seamless integration with Google Drive, which makes the content I create in Notability instantly more shareable and useful. (From the PDF I can print in high quality since it exports my writing as vectors rather than bitmaps, or I can just email it to someone if that is more convenient. I’ve done both of these several times at work over the last three months and have been very pleased with the output.)

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I do want to say something about my overall writing experience across all apps – in other words, what I found to be true because of the way Apple has designed the Pro and the Pencil. Essentially, it feels like magic. After about 2 months of daily use, I reached the point where it felt equally natural to write on the Pro as I did on paper. I no longer notice things like the smoothness of the glass and the Pencil itself, which I remember bothering me at the beginning. In fact, I even find it easier to write with the Pencil over long periods of time because I only have to apply minimal pressure to make clear marks (when I write on paper, out of habit I press quite hard with my pen).

These have been said many times before, so I won’t dwell on them: the lack of discernible lag and the highly reliable palm rejection are the main things that make the Pencil feel so compelling in normal use. My handwriting on the Pro looks exactly my handwriting on paper, and that’s because Apple has successfully engineered the Pencil and Pro so that you don’t need to adjust the way you write to use them effectively.

And this is what makes the whole experience so effective for me as a mathematics teacher. Essentially the Pro has taken all the handwriting I would normally be doing – and as I’ve established, that’s a lot – and supercharged it by integrating it into an electronic workflow. I have several “subjects” set up in Notability, each of which syncs automatically to a separate folder in Google Drive. The synchronisation happens seamlessly in the background whenever I close a document – which means I don’t have the live version backed up like I do in Google Docs or Microsoft OneNote, but if I want to manually trigger the app to update a file on Drive then all I have to do is close and re-open it. This means that whenever I need a document, no matter how long ago I’ve made it, I can get to it from any of my internet-connected devices. This has been useful on dozens of occasions already – taking minutes on a meeting and immediately emailing them out to staff, pulling up an example worked solution to a question posed by a student about a topic we’d looked at several weeks prior, and displaying the solutions to a past exam paper (along with my live annotations) on a data projector for the whole class to see, among many other examples of how this has been useful to me.

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One feature that I particularly want to highlight is the ability to select and rearrange or cut and paste marks on the page. I want to point it out because it’s a feature I didn’t even know I wanted – but once I understood it and got used to it, found myself using it constantly (literally, hundreds of times a day) and really miss being able to do it when I return to writing on paper. This takes one of the very best features of typing and imports it into the sphere of handwriting. Anyone who writes frequently – whether it’s emails, essays, reports, articles or fiction – basically takes it for granted that we write (and think) in stops and starts. It’s rare to find someone who can think of the perfect words and grammar to convey their meaning in the exact order and at the exact speed to type them down. Most of us need to write, delete, rephrase, and edit several times before we get something we’re satisfied with. Personally, I tend to write/type out my ideas and then read my sentences back to myself as if I were speaking them to get a sense as to whether a sentence is clear or not. I like to ensure that my paragraphs have a measure of rhythm to them, and this usually requires copious editing.

Proofreading sentences (and equations!) is equally easy on a hard copy as it is on a digital copy. But the actual act of reworking something so that it’s clearer or more powerful is immensely easier to do on a computer. The ease with which you can rearrange and replace phrases (or mathematical symbols) is one of the killer features on a digital word processor, something that we often take for granted when all we do is type all day. And being able to do that with the handwritten script I produce through the Pencil is truly like having the best of both worlds.

Here, at the end of this article, let me mention something which is usually the first thing you find in a review about the iPad Pro: its size. Putting together this write-up has taken me such a long time that Apple has already released its “next” version of the iPad Pro – the 9.7 inch version (i.e. in the same form factor as the iPad Air). However, given my time to settling into using the original Pro, I think 12.9 inches is the best size for this device.

Let me take a step back before I justify that opinion. Okay, I get it: everyone is gobsmacked by the Pro’s size when they first see it. It’s always the first thing people comment on when they see me using it. That’s unsurprising for two reasons: (1) the Pro’s size is the only fact about it you can notice within 1 second of seeing it, and (2) everyone is mentally comparing the Pro to a 9.7 inch tablet, because that’s what they’re used to. The first point is obviously unavoidable, but I think the second point is actually an honest mistake. I don’t think the Pro is trying to be a better version of the Air; I think it’s trying to be something else altogether (hence the Pro moniker). If you’ve read this far into this post turn you probably won’t be surprised when I say I think the Pro is just the right size at 12.9 inches because of what I am comparing it to: an A4 piece of paper. The writable surface of each is basically identical, and I don’t want either of them to be any smaller than they are right now.

There are other benefits, too. I’ve tried doing Split Screen on a 9.7 inch screen and it feels just like it did on those 10 inch netbooks I mentioned earlier: cramped and not designed for this purpose. But I’ve done legitimate multi-tasking on the Pro numerous times and found it quite a comfortable experience (most frequently with Notability on the left and iBooks, email or Safari on the right).

So, here ends my rambling set of thoughts on the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil. I felt compelled to write about them because they are that rare instance of technology that has genuinely managed to make me adjust my workflow because I get access to significant new benefits this way. There are lots of things I haven’t said but I’ve already written far too much here – so I hope it’s helpful to some of you and if you’ve got further questions, feel free to send them my way!

Inspire Innovate 2016

This past week, I had the joy of being part of Inspire Innovate 2016, a conference of almost 500 educators from across NSW (and some from further than that!). It was a pretty intense experience, with some sharp keynotes and a range of really practical breakout sessions. I came away very satisfied for the two days that I had to spend away from school to be a part of it. Definitely recommend it to others if you have the opportunity to attend.

I had the privilege of presenting two workshops, one on strategies for teaching mathematics and the other on what I’ve learned from doing Wootube for 3 years. As is my style, I also took a copious amount of handwritten notes – 11 pages worth – to document the sessions and help me reflect on what I was learning.

sketchnotes

If you’re interested, here’s a download link to the full PDF: Eddie Woo’s notes from Inspire Innovate 2016

And here’s a selection of my tweets to #inspirensw during the conference.