Use Top Secret Encryption To Teach Science
When solving, you first probably noticed that some symbols repeat. That led you to guess that those repeating symbols represent more commonly used letters. Next, you might have guessed what a word, the shortest one, was. If that guess was correct, you’ve suddenly gone from none to now 2 letters decoded. After filling in the letters for those 2 symbols throughout the rest of the puzzle you’ll figure out more words and symbols, and before long you’ll have the entire puzzle done!
Wouldn’t it be fun to do with your students; as in, to hand them encrypted statements that you typed and have them try to crack the code? You can, and it’s not hard! Here’s how:
- Type in some statements on the computer using Word. You’ll want to…
- Use all caps and no punctuation so there’s just one kind of each letter, and no punctuation to worry about.
- Add two extra spaces in between words so it’s very clear where words separate.
- Use double spacing in between lines so there’s plenty of room for students to write their decodings above the words.
- When done typing the statements, select all the text and change the font to “Wingdings”. (There are other fonts that will ‘encode’ words; you can use them, but not all of them have symbols representing letters that are easy to distinguish from others.)
(translation- you’re done!)
One nice advantage of this activity is it requires your students to take some risk and make wrong turns in order to solve it; success comes only after failure (which is how real life works). Niels Bohr is credited with a great quote about mistakes- “An expert is a person who has found out by his own painful experience all the mistakes that one can make in a very narrow field.”
When you started decoding the puzzle above, it was difficult and slow. You were like a mouse in a maze- down this way, oops that was wrong, let’s try another way. But what does it mean when you hit a dead end and have to turn around? Answer- improvement; acknowledgement that what you’re doing is wrong. And what does it mean when students erase something? The same- improvement. So as you use this decoding activity in your classroom tell students not to be afraid of mistakes, of taking guesses, of using that eraser.
To get you started, here are a few puzzles already made, Word formatted:
- Encrypted_Statements- Science_and_Society
Translation of the puzzle at the very top- “SCIENCE IS AWESOME”