LEARNERS from disadvantaged schools across the Eastern Cape are taking their first steps towards IT careers by getting a feel for coding theory. Nelson Mandela University’s Govan Mbeki Mathematics Development Centre (GMMDC) has included coding theory in its interactive STEAM experiential-learning workshops run in classrooms across the province in partnership with Capitec, Old Mutual, Cookhouse Windfarm Trust and BK Admin Services.“STEAM typically looks at various geometric structures including 2D or 3D tessellations (patterns) to help pupils see the links between mathematics and careers in science, engineering, design and architecture. “Now we are adding a new dimension – in the form of two coding theory games called Tanks and Boats– to introduce them to the world of IT as well,” said GMMDC director Prof Werner Olivier. “Coding theory is a precursor to programming and it’s very important for setting oneself up for a career in IT.” The introduction of coding theory is timeous, given that the national Department of Basic Education (DBE) in September proposed coding as a new school subject. The Boats game links to a second proposed new school subject, marine sciences. Senior DBE officials recently travelled to rural Dimbaza near King William’s Town, to observe GMMDC’s STEAM activity sessions with pupils at Archie Velile Senior Secondary School, gaining a first-hand glimpse of Tanks and Boats.Both games were developed by postgraduate students in the university’s Department of Computing Sciences, under the supervision of Prof Jean Greyling. In Tanks, pupils, in teams competing against each other, must piece together puzzle-piece instructions to guide a tank through obstacles to a predetermined destination. They then take a picture of their puzzle-piece pattern using a tablet or mobile phone with the free Tanks app installed. “The app uses photo-recognition to execute the path they have coded– and determine whether their steps were correct. Once they have found the solution, they can proceed to the next level of difficulty. “Tanks is very tricky because you have to know which pattern to put where. What I learnt was that no matter how challenging your situation, there is always a solution waiting to be discovered,” said Esona Sipho Nombali, from Alphandale Senior Secondary School, at a STEAM workshop in Duncan Village, East London. Boats takes the form of a board game, where pupils must navigate to pick up plastic pollution in the ocean and learn about critical environmental issues in the process. Olivier said teachers from schools participating in the STEAM workshops received Tanks and Boats sets, along with tessellation sets and guides to engage with other groups of pupils at their schools. “Our STEAM workshops are all about experiential learning linked with the integrated use of technology. “We want learners to learn through practical, hands-on experience in collaboration with their peers – and not just through textbooks – so they can make relevant mathematical connections for themselves. “We want them to make discoveries linked to problem-solving in real life and to become aware of the important role mathematics plays in this regard.”Most the learners and teachers at the STEAM workshops are also participants in GMMDC’s ongoing teaching and learning development projects, which use leading-edge technology to help learners improve in maths and science.