Introducing Discovery Hour with Codebreaking

Our school has been on a semester block schedule for over 20 years, with some tweaks made to accomodate building size, AP courses and electives. But this year brought a major schedule change, and an opportunity to think about how we use time to engage students. After periods 1 and 2 (each 75 minutes), all students move into something called HATS period. The acronym stands for Hatters Achieving Targeted Success, and during the period students have a lunch period, along with assigned time with teachers. It’s a great mid-day block for students to touch base with activities and clubs, seek help, make up work, and our RTII team has utilized the time to meet formally with students and facilitate individual help sessions.

I saw an opportunity to engage students in meaningful activities during this time, and have started Hatters Discovery Hour – modeled after the Genius Hour concept many elementary and middle schools offer. My thought is that so many of our teachers have awesome ideas to share which don’t quite fit class time. Also, it’s an opportunity for students to experience teachers they may not cross paths with during their high school career. Let’s build more connections!

The past 2 months have seen some fascinating offerings.  Our No Place for Hate Team has used Discovery Hour to facilitate open discussions on race relations.  Meanwhile, a science teacher shared his experiences working as an EMT in a medical diagnosis session. Juggling was the fun focus of one session, and Discovery Hours on memory systems, photography and meditation are in the works.

THE REAL IMITATION GAME – CRYPTOGRAPHY

For my Discovery Hour session, I shared many of my collected activities on codebreaking. With Oscar season just passed and some simmering interest in the Imitation Game, it was a perfect time to talk about the role of codebreaking through history. Even better, my principal and district curriculum director (and my former boss) were on hand to join in the fun:

I was ambitious, trying to fit 4 codebreaking challenges into the hour. In the end, we had just enough time to keep things moving and hold some fun discussions in these 4 areas. Scroll below to download the handouts.

CRYPTOGRAMS – We started with a basic letter-to-letter cipher. I used a long quote from Bill Gates, which almost turned out to be too long – as I felt a time crunch hitting early. But longer quotes allow more entry points, and I couldn’t pull my principla away from the challenge!

CAESAR SHIFTS – Here we used an online applet to explore shifts, and this provided an entry point for modular arithmetic, which few of the students had encountered before.

HILL CIPHER – By now we had established that the first two coding procedures did not seem too secure. I have shared Hill Cipher with students in my classes before during matrix units, and again a cryptography website was helpful in providing some easy codebreaking trials. When I have done these in class, I often develop problems which get around the modular arithmetic issue (it takes longer to discuss than I often have time for) but we were able to squeeze in a 5-minute mod primer.  See below for other Hill Cipher problems I have used.

THE ENIGMA – The cherry on the sundae, and where many students were stunned by the complexity. This online Enigma simulator is one of my favorites – I love the visual of the wiring. So many good questions concerning inverses, how codebooks were traded and how the British broke the code. I left enough time to show Numberphile’s Enigma video, which capped off the hour nicely.

Looking forward to sharing more of what I know in later Discovery Hour sessions, and thrilled so many of my colleagues are buying into the idea.

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4 responses to “Introducing Discovery Hour with Codebreaking

  1. Michelle J. Russell

    Mrs.Hice, Thought you might find this interesting. It’s a blog is from an AP Stats teacher and what he does during “discovery hour” which is similar to “power hour”. Thank you, Michelle Russell

    Sent from my Verizon Wireless 4G LTE smartphone

  2. Thank you! I just used this as an end of the year activity after final exams and it paired well with a screening of the movie! Students were engaged prior to the film and were able to appreciate it better.

  3. Pingback: Summer of Conferences: TMC17 | Take It To The Limit

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