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Codes and Ciphering

August 15, 2013

Codes and Ciphering Lesson

Donna Root

August 2012


Educator Spy Guide English – The essence of espionage is communication. Spies gather information, or intelligence, pass it to the right people, and others analyze and communicate the intelligence. A small mistake in how a message is enciphered or the interpretation of a message can have disastrous results. Successful intelligence officers often have a strong command of multiple languages, are able to express themselves both clearly and covertly, and understand the subtext of self-expression. Perhaps that is why many have become great novelists! Until fairly recently, the only way the public learned about the hidden world of espionage was through novels—because real events were classified. The International Spy Museum’s goal is to help separate fact from fiction in espionage. The Museum provides opportunities to hook students on everything from storytelling to the subtleties of human language.

Explain Language as Code and how it is a form of communication.  Codes have been used for thousands of years to communicate to others that also know or decipher the code.

Page 4 – Classroom Connection - Look for examples of how language is encoded in everyday life. How are simple symbols, such as dollar signs, smiley faces, and traffic lights, a form of code? Are there any phrases or words that have a coded or secret meaning?

+ Make up a code that you will have your classmates cipher.  Was it easy or hard?

+ Students could write a spy fiction story infused with facts from your visit to the Museum website.

Educator Spy Guide Math - Spies rely on good security to collect and distribute information covertly in a public world. Although this security often takes the form of physical concealment, codes and ciphers are also frequently used to encrypt and protect information. Examining codes and ciphers provides a fascinating hook for the fields of algebra, probability, and statistics. The Museum’s permanent exhibition contains several historic examples of famed codes and ciphers in Earliest Espionage, and Code Breaking provides computer interactives with which students can try their hand at decoding a variety of ciphers. The Museum is a great place to jumpstart your students’ thinking about symbolic representation in espionage.

Examine the Enigma machine (google picture of it) and code-breaking efforts in Code Breaking. Each time a cipher is cracked, a whole new breed of cipher (and related mathematics) has to be developed to create a more sophisticated cipher. In any given discipline—algebra, statistics, number theory—students can trace the growth in complexity of ciphers and codes over time.

To discuss with students:

• What is the difference between a code and a cipher? What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of each?

•What makes the Enigma code so complicated?

Use the Code breaker in the Math center (key chain I purchased) and make a code for your group.  Can they solve it?  Easy? Difficult? Why have codes been so important?  (way of keeping information secret).  If I can find an invisible ink pen, I will add this to the station.

Students can then make their own code for homework.  Work with symbolic representation by designing codes and ciphers. Present the code and discuss its advantages and disadvantages.


Books to use for assignment:

Spies: the Undercover World of Secrets, Gadgets and Lies by David Owen

**Eyewitness Books: Spy by Richard Platt

**Hello Out There! Messages in Code by Jan Weller


** Great books for younger students !!



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