My MathLint for this week discusses the work of Janet Beissinger and Vera Pless, two UI-C professors. First, they created the story The Cryptoclub...and then built on the book's success using NSF funds to construct an after-school curriculum for middle school students. Their goal for both the book and web site is to use cryptology to provide an interesting context for critical thinking and problem solving.
The original text The CryptoClub was written in 2006, trying to use coding and decoding engage middle school students to improve their understanding of mathematical concepts. Both the book and associated after-school resources were pilot-tested in Chicago public schools, then tested in school districts across the country.
I found my copy of the book to be a fun read, and I can see why middle school students enjoy the experience. But then, I also enjoy codes myself and have taught them to students, even at the high school level using matrices.
This book includes many hands-on activities, which students can experience in classrooms or informally. Though developed for middle school students, the authors do not shy away from discussing most of the standard coding methods, such as Caesar, substitution, Vigenère, and multiplicative ciphers. They even discuss the powerful RSA code, but you can expect students of any level to struggle with this part.
Since mathematics is the underlying emphasis, the students will gain practice and novel experiences with addition, subtraction, negative numbers, decimals, percentages, prime numbers, factorization, modular arithmetic, exponents, and frequency analysis.
The authors also have an accompanying workbook filled with problems related to each section of the book, designed to provide further practice with the concepts being introduced. You can download a FREE! PDF version of this workbook, thanks to the publishers AK Peters.
Finally, if you use the book and want more, please consider exploring the associated website Cryptoclub.