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Higher Education

Codes and Ciphers

From Ancient Greece to the modern day people have been using increasingly complex codes and ciphers with the intention of communicating secretly and keeping information secure. Enigma was one such cipher. Students will enjoy the rare opportunity to use a genuine Enigma machine as well as encountering a range of historical codes and ciphers as they work together to decipher messages in order to solve a puzzle. This session includes an Enigma machine demonstration.

During this session students will:

Increase their knowledge of codes and ciphers and their uses throughout history.

Develop their understanding of the role that ciphers played during WW2, with specific reference to the Enigma machine and the wider operations of Bletchley Park.

Use and develop team working, problem solving and mathematical thinking skills, applying them to a practical codebreaking task.

Subject focus: Maths, Computing, History

Story of Enigma

The German Military believed the Enigma cipher was unbreakable. They were wrong, but the Codebreakers were only able to break Enigma because of human error, complacency and predictable message formats. Students will examine a genuine Enigma machine to figure out for themselves what made Enigma such an effective cipher at the time and calculate the exact number of possible key settings per message. This session includes an Enigma machine demonstration.

During this session students will:

Learn about and understand the operation, use and purpose of Enigma machines in WW2.

Work together to develop and apply their mathematical skills and knowledge to calculate the number of possible key settings per message for a standard army Enigma machine.

Subject Focus: Mathematics, History, Computing

Story of Lorenz

More effective but less well known than the iconic Enigma machine, Lorenz was the cipher of the German High Command. It was so complex that it required the world’s first programmable electronic computer to break it. Students will learn some of the secrets of this machine, including its use of binary operations to generate a number of key settings that dwarfed that of Enigma.

During this session students will:

Develop their knowledge and understanding of ciphers used in the past including those during WW2 and how they are relevant to modern day ciphers

Understand the number of possible settings for a Lorenz machine and come to recognise the scale of the problem for codebreakers in WW2

Work with others as a team to solve problems using their combined mathematical skills, including exploring the XOR function and Vernam ciphers in a historical context

Subject Focus: Mathematics, History, Computing

Breaking Lorenz

Fiendishly difficult, the Lorenz cipher seemed impossible to break, but Bletchley Park Codebreaker John Tiltman’s inspired breakthrough paved the way for other codebreakers to unlock its secrets. His thought process is laid bare, and students will engage with a series of tasks of increasing complexity designed to give them a full understanding of Tiltman’s break.

This session assumes some basic understanding of the Lorenz cipher.

During this session students will:

Develop their knowledge and understanding of ciphers used in the past including those during WW2

Understand how a key logical step contributed to the breaking of a WW2 cipher, using ideas related to binary addition, the XOR operation and common language patterns

Work through a problem-solving procedure collaboratively based on real historical events

Subject Focus: Computing, History, Mathematics

Other topics?

If you have a specific focus that is not currently catered for, please contact us to discuss possibilities.

You might like to also check What’s on for upcoming events.

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Book a Learning Visit

Prices and how to book a learning visit to Bletchley Park

Essential Information

Everything you need to know before you visit with your school

On-site FAQs

Frequently asked questions relating to learning visits

Sessions

Find out more about the different sessions we run on-site

Essential Information

Everything you need to know before you visit with your school

Book a Learning Visit

Prices and how to book a learning visit to Bletchley Park

On-site FAQs

Frequently asked questions relating to learning visits