Learning encryption

I guess I can talk about this now.  I suspect that the Statute of Limitations has run out.

In elementary school, it was very common for us to pass notes to friends in class.  Of course, they’d be written in code lest they fall into the wrong hands.

By today’s standards, it wasn’t very sophisticated.  I remember one where we just shifted the letters of the alphabet a number of characters.

So, a simple shift of one letter makes




I can also recall missing a couple of recesses as I learned this technique.   

But, little did I know that I was practicing for a unit later in life on code/code breaking and studying the classics like Alan Turing.

It seems so primitive now.  

It just got a whole lot more modern and fun with Mozilla’s Codemoji.

It’s not a tool for serious coding/decoding but a part of learning about encryption that brings it to a level that makes it easy for students to understand in a fun way.

The concept is fairly simple.  Type your message and encode it with an emoji and then send the link to your encryped message to your friend.  

Once they have the link, they can decode your message – provided they have the key to unlock it.  In this case, the key is an emoji.  

Now, the technique isn’t going to stand up to any level of cipher testing.  There are only a limited number of keys for the decoding.  However, it’s more than enough to cover the concept of coding and decoding a message.  There’s a level of satisfaction in decoding the message.  (There also is a certain level of trying incorrect keys!)

In the Computer Science classroom, of course, the next step is to write your own system.  I found that this was a fun activity for students.  In its simplest, we just did an alphabetic shift of # letters and wrapped from Z to A if needed.  That was enough for the basic program.

But, if you’ve ever taught Computer Science, you know that wasn’t enough for the hot shots.  They’d do things like making the shift go backwards, or go progressively through the alphabet (1 letter shift, 2 letter shift, etc.), use numbers, special characters, …  It was one of those activities that spurred on even more ideas.  

If you’re teaching encryption or about encryption, then you’ll want to poke around with this and then tuck it away for use.  The Mozilla page about Learning Encryption goes along nicely so bookmark it too.


OTR Links 06/30/2016

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

More to do with books

You never know where your next bit of inspiration might come from…

I remember getting one of those booklets “Things that happened the year you were born” from my parents one year for my birthday.  They’re a popular product in many book stores or souvenir stands.  Flipping through it reminded me of how old I really was and how far we’ve come.

I expected to see the same thing when I read this article.  

The Most Popular Book the Year You Were Born

Visit the link and then open the gallery to click your way through books from 1930 to present.

So, of course, I went to my year of birth and checked it out.  I don’t recall reading the book but do remember watching the movie on late night television.

I’m sure that, if you do nothing else, you’ll at least do that.

Then, I started to think of other ways to use this resource.

  • take a look at the book cover design and see how they’ve changed over the years – other than the title and the author, how did the publisher make reading the book more attractive?  When did computer generated artwork become the norm?
  • take a look at the book cover and see the use of fonts – how have these changed over the years? – can your choice of font or what you do with the font (capitalization, effects, size, colour, ….) make a difference?
  • suppose you owned a book store – what would make one book more appealing to customers than others?  What display could you create around it to make it stand out among the hundreds of other books in your store?
  • if you’re an English department, how could you promote why a particular book was chosen in class?
  • if you’re a librarian, how complete is your collection – could you use this to direct your patrons to the titles via display?
  • are the Harry Potter books really that old or is it just me?
  • how many of these books have been made into movies?  How many have you seen?  (You might have to turn to TCM for some of them)
  • pick a book – who was the intended audience?
  • can you judge a book by its cover?
  • could you redesign the cover and do a better job with the tools and knowledge that you have today?

And, just from curiosity, how many of these books have your read?  How many were for school and how many for just some recreational reading?  

I’ll bet that none of these books used this – Plot Generator.

OTR Links 06/29/2016

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

The best qualifications

I guess Lisa Noble was getting caught up on her blog reading over the weekend.  In two successive messages, I read:

and later

It was the second message that really made me happy and got personal.

One of the things that you don’t necessarily see are the comments that you get when you share a Google resource or a Microsoft resource or a something else resource.  The “fan-people” from opposing technologies’ camps sometimes leap in with some nasty stuff.

But, Doug, aren’t you a certified distinguished exemplary expert whatsit?

The answer is “partially”.  A few years back, my superintendent had me take a certification course from a vendor to see if it would fit into our district’s plans.  It was fun to meet the new people and certainly the online connections have persisted.

But there were a few things that nagged me and the superintendent when we met to go over the course materials in our debrief.

  • it wasn’t necessarily required but we were encouraged to take issue when someone talks about a competing technology and show how it could be done with the one we’d explored in the course
  • the course was full of really neat features (the geeky me actually enjoyed that) but other than showing them off, you’d probably never use them in a real classroom
  • the focus was on the technology and any curriculum connections were only mentioned in passing
  • in our debrief, we focussed on the fact that we weren’t a training facility and to focus on one technology at the expense of all others was a real disservice to teachers and students
  • and probably a whole bunch of other things

The bottom line was that we thought it would ultimately be a limiting factor for education if it was only about the technology and only about that technology.  So, we passed on going any further and reverted to in-house sessions that focused on a wide variety of things, mostly district purchased, Ministry of Education licensed or freely available, and always starting and ending with the curriculum.  The driving force was to help teachers/students pick the best available tool to address the curriculum.  We thought at the time, and I still do, that this was the very best and responsible approach.

So, when Lisa used the expression “equal opportunity”, I felt really good.

But what’s a district to do?  Certainly, we in education like our credentials.  Who hasn’t gone to the OCT site and searched for a teacher to see his/her qualifications?

There is another route and I would suggest it’s of the best value.  The Scouting movement has known it for years.  I’ve mentioned it here on this blog a few times.  It’s the concept of badging.  With a couple of current educational events recently, Doug Belshaw has shared some of his thoughts about it.

I’d encourage you to take a few minutes and explore these links and wonder – “why aren’t we doing this in my district?”  After all, when you apply for a new position, you bring your portfolio with you and share your learning with a new principal or superintendent.  The parents of your students have no idea what you’ve done and what you could do.  Wouldn’t an accumulation of badges on your blog or wiki be helpful?

A comprehensive badging program wouldn’t be limited to just technology either.  Think of all the learning opportunities that could be celebrated in this manner.

After all, the badging system would be based on what’s important locally instead of for a big corporation?  There may well still be a desire to learn more.

Certainly the other option might serve to enhance but isn’t learning that’s consistent with the local goals and aspirations the best and most important qualifications?