Sunday, 26 May 2013

Codes of the Cryptographic Kind

Recently, our classes took part in a writing week. Our focus was on writing in the style of a Sherlock Holmes story. With the emphasis on writing, we were eager to find different ways of keeping children's engagement throughout the week. One way was to give children a different code each day to solve.
The idea was that there would be a new code each day and by solving that code, children would gain one word in a sentence which would lead them to a chocolate-based prize on the final day.
The inspiration for these started with the dancing man code from the Sherlock Holmes story 'The Adventure of the Dancing Man'. In this story, a code of dancing figures is used to communicate with one of the main characters. I used this code for the first day of the week. In order to do this, I downloaded a dancing man font from the internet and used this to help create the code.

The second day was a simple numerical code with numbers replacing letters. This proved rather simple for the children in the class, which was fine as they still were working on the clue from Monday.
The next clue was written in Morse code. Most children were unclear what the dots and dashes might represent, but there were a couple of children who knew what it was. This led to a great learning opportunity around what Morse code was and how it developed.
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At this point there was a small group of children engaged in the code-breaking so I revealed the final prize on offer which inspired more children to take part.
On the Thursday, in order to draw the children in, I used reversed words as the simple code. The children were feeling confident with groups coming together to solve the problems.
When I released the code for the final day, it was a humdinger. There was a combination of the previous codes with some wrinkles. There was a repetition of the dancing man code which only a few children had solved. Instead of the backwards words I used the phonetic alphabet to represent letters and instead of numbers I provided calculations with the numerical answers representing letters.
The children were particularly motivated by now and a group worked over the start of lunchtime to solve the problem and achieve their treats at home time.
As a whole class problem it was great as it allowed me to personalise problems for different groups of children. By the end there was a significant number of children taking part using a range of different skills.
More information on codes can be found on the Bletchley Park website.

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