Codebreaking, Secrecy and Other Classroom Problems

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Puzzled? My students are. At least in name.

This semester at Queens University of Charlotte, I have the pleasure of designing and facilitating an “exploration seminar” in the art of puzzling. The “Puzzled” course gives students the opportunity to learn and think about a variety of problem solving strategies, not the least of which is codebreaking.

Students in the course range from freshmen to seniors, but all participants are already challenging their assumptions about how classes operate. In the first two sessions, students worked together to solve group puzzles which tested their problem solving strategies. The first required them to define the rules of the puzzle, and the second used their assumptions about the rules to challenge their decision making processes.

Later puzzles will challenge participants to attempt problems using algorithmic, heuristic, trial-and-error, and brute force strategies, to name a few. And then the course will move into cryptography.

Cryptography (the study of “secret writing”) might be a topic you’d hear about in the halls of MIT, the Naval Academy, or training sites at Langley. But here in Charlotte, students will be getting a taste of the basics of secret writing, codes, and ciphers using Simon Singh’s popular The Code Book as a guide.

Over the course of the semester, students, will study, decipher, and encipher messages of their own, and connect their learning to current digital encryption strategies.

Puzzled is a one-credit-hour exploration seminar in puzzling and codebreaking at Queens University of Charlotte.

Exploration seminars at Queens are intended to contribute to faculty-student interaction within the university by providing opportunities for faculty-student teams to investigate topics of mutual interest. These topics are typically interdisciplinary (or non-disciplinary) in nature. Other past examples at Queens have included seminars in topics like digital literacy, philosophy of the body, the “ordinary heroes” project, latino tastes, and random acts of kindness. 

To learn more about the Puzzled course, view the syllabus here.

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