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From the perfect symmetry of a snowflake to the intricate patterns on a puffadder’s skin to spiral galaxies in space, nature is filled with mathematically-precise patterns. 

These patterns extend to the world of art, including colourful fashion designs, architecture, African and Islamic art, and much more.

There is a connection between maths and art. And while there is a global push for maths-, science- and technology-related education, there is a new shift that is including art in the mix.

STEAM education – the acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics, and a variation on the better-known STEM – is being introduced to South African teachers and pupils next week (June 29 to July 1) by Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University’s Govan Mbeki Mathematics Development Centre (GMMDC), at its fourth annual GeoGebra Conference.

GMMDC is home to one of 187 global institutes for GeoGebra, which is free, open-source maths software used in millions of maths and science classrooms across the globe, to enable teachers and pupils to visualise and experiment with geometry, algebra, tables, graphing, calculus and statistics.  However, this year’s conference will also demonstrate the link between GeoGebra and art.

“STEAM education is a much more practical, relevant and career-linked way of teaching maths and science,” said GMMDC head Prof Werner Olivier. 

International guest speaker at the conference – which will be attended by 70 teachers and TVET college lecturers from across the province – is Finnish STEAM researcher Kristof Fenyvesi, vice-president of the world’s largest maths, art and education community, called the Bridges Organisation.

Fenyvesi is also running his international “Experience Workshop” at the Uitenhage Science Centre on Wednesday (June 28) and Saturday (July 1), where 30 pupils from under-resourced schools will get a practical taste of how art and maths connect, as they build giant soccer balls and 3m-high by 5m wide igloo-like domes, using GeoGebra to understand the structures.

“The Experience Workshop will give the pupils the opportunity to learn mathematics through art, and to do art through mathematics,” said Olivier.

The same practical maths-art activities will be included in the GeoGebra Conference, which takes place at NMMU from Thursday (June 29) to Saturday (July 1). The conference is themed “Steaming ahead: Promoting creative cross-curricular collaboration with GeoGebra”.

Olivier said: “A GeoGebra community has been established across the world by teachers, pupils and lecturers, as they continue to develop GeoGebra resources. There are about 800 000 GeoGebra apps and files which people can download for free to bring the maths and science curricula to life.”

He said in addition to “popularising” the study of maths and science, GeoGebra had also built strong links with major organisations, such as Google, Microsoft Office and the Bridges Organisation.  

As part of a formal research project in collaboration with the International GeoGebra Institute (based in Cambridge, England) and several national role-players – including Get Ahead College in Queenstown, which is aiming to set up a STEAM centre – GMMDC is also working towards developing resources for the world’s first master’s degree in maths and art, which will be available at Johannes Kepler University in Linz, Austria.

The GeoGebra conference ties in with the GMMDC’s high-tech approach to maths and science. The Centre has developed a curriculum-aligned teaching and learning model for high school pupils and teachers, which is available on tablet, laptop or desktop computer, and includes video lessons, animated PowerPoint presentations, self-tests and many other resources, including GeoGebra.

GMMDC uses the model to boost teachers’ skills and also help pupils improve their knowledge and performance in maths and science, through Saturday incubator schools and technology-assisted peer support (TAPS).

“The GeoGebra Conference and Experience Workshop are additional vehicles for supporting the development of teachers and pupils,” said Olivier.

GMMDC will also be introducing STEAM education at the upcoming Open Design Festival in Cape Town in August.

Contact information
Ms Margot Collett
Communications and Administration Manager
Tel: 27 41 504 2548