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OPERATION ULTRA: GCHQ Codebreaking Project


Every time I have used a code-breaking activity in my lessons I have relished how pupils are captivated and keen to decode the secret message first. With exams finished, I decided to organise a cryptanalysis project for the 60 pupils in the parallel year 9 top sets that would really give them an opportunity to test themselves in an exciting area of maths in which there is a recognised shortage of recruits.

I arranged to take both classes off timetable for three one-hour lessons with the following structure:

LESSON 1:   History of codebreaking

LESSON 2:   Spy School

LESSON 3:   Cryptanalysis Exercise

Given the proximity to the end of the year, I tried to draw in a range of different maths and history teachers, and an outsider speaker, in order to maintain an intensity that would mirror the WWII backdrop against the activities were framed. I approached David Stupples, a Professor of Systems and Cryptography at City University’s School of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences, who kindly agreed not only to present a lecture on the history of cryptography, but, moreover, to actually bring in a genuine WWII Enigma machine! He drew on early examples of codes from the ancient Egyptians and Romans before exploring the mathematics behind modern codebreaking. This led on to an opportunity for pupils to get up close with the Enigma machine and then try to use factorials to find out how many combinations were possible (1.075×1023). He continued by exploring the fundamental role codebreaking played in winning the war as analysts at Bletchley Park intercepted and deciphered German messages sent using Enigma. Finally he rounded off his talk progressing through the Cold War and looking at the role of cryptanalysts at GCHQ today in countering cyber-crime and cyber-terrorism.

DSC_0492For the Spy School I used activities that I had adapted from Charlotte King (@Chk_ing) after reading her article ‘My best lesson’ in The Guardian. The session was introduced by a history teacher who set the contextual backdrop and emphasised the importance of decoding German U-boat messages in order to ensure Britain received sufficient supplies through the war. Five maths teachers then took a 10 minute session each to cover; the Caesar cipher, the Pipgpen cipher, the transposition cipher, frequency analysis and the Vigenère square. As the last section came to a close, I used graphics from Mathew John James (@MatthewJohnJone) to simulate my computer being hacked by military intelligence. This set the scene for the final session of the day when pupils were provided with a series of coded messages which would require them to apply all the skills they had learned at Spy School to successfully decipher.

DSC_0493Incredibly, five groups successfully deciphered all of the codes before the end of the day which was tremendous testament to their enthusiasm and determination. This enabled pupils to access a final challenge: the chance to go down in history as a master cryptanalyst. I had previously come across an article on CIA Analyst David Stein who had taken more than seven years labouring over piles of gibberish to finally crack three of the four coded messages encrypted in the KYRPTOS sculpture at CIA headquarters. The fourth, however, remains unsolved and hence provided a unique opportunity for pupils to launch their cryptography career:





The staff were hugely impressed by the collaborative spirit within groups and the intense level of competition between them as they pitted their mathematical abilitites against each other to crack the codes first. In summary, Professor Stupples emphasised that this was not merely a historical exercise as, in years to come, GCHQ would be relying on people like them to continue to protect the UK from hostile actions!

Download all resources (including Professor Stupples’ presentation) here.

Project Jugaad


Jugaad is a Punjabi term word that essentially means using innovative approaches to solve problems effectively given limited resources and, as such, was chosen as the name for this UK-India collaborative educational research project into the role of Maths in Technology. For the past five weeks Year 9 pupils from Southfields Academy, London, and Bluebells School, New Delhi, have been investigating the role of maths in an area of technology that interests them; last week was the deadline for submissions and the standard of work has surpassed all expectations! These 13 and 14 year old pupils have completed extensive research into topics as diverse as maths in medicine and maths in space, and discovered, for themselves, topics that go way beyond the KS3 curriculum such as The Bernouilli Principle and calculus.

With STEM subjects critical to the emerging Global Knowledge Economy, Project Jugaad was established with the aim of providing pupils with a real world, open-ended project which would not only develop their subject knowledge but, in addition, foster key skills such as inquiry, collaboration, communication, leadership, global awareness, and cultural understanding which will be crucial to success in further education and employment. Given that some pupils did not even have an e-mail address at the beginning of the project, levels of digital development have been tremendous with documentaries being produced, websites designed, and videos on living in New Delhi which the Indian Tourist Board would be proud of!

Given the high ability of these pupils, the project was open-ended but pupils were invited to submit proposals and drafts in order to receive feedback. The purpose of this was to promote a growth mindset with pupils looking for ways of how they could improve the content of their presentations, in the absence of a grade or score, rather than allowing them to get demoralised by being told what they had done wrong. Groups consisted of 2 pupils from each school and although they were free to communicate however they saw fit (Facebook, BBM, Skype etc) their activities were scaffolded by the fact that each member had to adopt a specific role (Project Manager, Chief Researcher, Digital Engineer, Communications Director). Whilst some groups did struggle to establish contact at first, as the deadlines approached the was a hive of activity and nearly all groups established effective communication in order to submit their projects on time.

The array of topics covered by the pupils was huge and the deliberations involved in shortlisting the final four were agonising. Eventually, the four groups selected for The Dean’s List were agreed upon and the pupils set about preparing to present their findings. This was a more intimidating task than normal, however; not only did the pupils have to present to a class full of pupils and a panel of judges sitting in front of them but, via Skype, they were also addressing pupils and judges in a class 5,000 miles away where the other 2 members of their group were. Coordinating such a presentation within the strict 5 minute time list required thorough planning and it was brilliant to see how all the groups managed to achieve this with aplomb!

The pupils have relished the opportunity to complete a project which extends beyond the confines of the classroom, and in so doing, have developed  new approaches to thinking about the role of maths in the technology that surrounds them, and formed new friendships with their peers in an international collaborative environment which seeks to simulate what pupils can expect to find when they embark on a career in the Global Knowledge Economy.

The winner of the inaugural Project Jugaad Berners-Lee cup will be selected on Wednesday 20th March up until which point you can view and comment on all four projects in The Dean’s List here.

For additional information on Project Jugaad, please visit the project website.

The Dean’s List


After five weeks of research, inquiry, collaboration, preparation and rehearsal the final four projects shortlisted for The Dean’s List were ready to present their findings. With a class of pupils and judges in front of them, another class connecting in India via Skype, and a strict 5 minute time limit it was a pressurised environment but all of the groups did fantastically well.  The judges from both schools have cast their votes but there is an opportunity for you to have your say too.

Please find below a copy of each Group’s presentation; any feedback in the comments box would be very much appreciated and will be considered alongside the judges votes in advance of the deadline on Wednesday 20th March.

Dynamic Researchers Maths in Cars

Friendship is the Key to Success (F.I.T.K.2.S) Maths in Music

The Incredible Maths Hunters Maths in Medicine

Loaded Maths Maths in Space

To find out more about Project Jugaad, download these presentations or see any of the other presentations, please visit the Project Jugaad Website

Crouching Tiger

UKIndia Summit

Prime Minister David Cameron recently took the largest business delegation ever assembled with him on his state visit to India. With ambitions of doubling UK-India trade by 2015, there are tremendous opportunities for British firms to benefit from India’s economic growth. Given the changing economic landscape, providing our pupils with experience of working on collaborative projects alongside their Indian peers should help prepare them for myriad opportunities in the Global knowledge economy.

Project Jugaad is a collaborative research project into the role of mathematics in technology between pupils at Southfields Academy in the UK and Bluebells school in India. It was designed to be open-ended in order to allow these top set pupils the opportunity to push themselves by going beyond the confines of the syllabus. Two pupils from each country are randomly assigned to a group and given the following brief:

Choose an area of Technology that interests you and investigate the role of mathematics in order to produce a presentation and share your findings with other groups.

The group is structured such that everyone has a specific position (Project Manager; Chief Researcher; Digital Engineer; Communications Director) and once they have been provided with each other’s e-mail addresses they are free to communicate however they want. In order to facilitate cultural understanding, pupils have been encouraged to produce a 3-minute video on ‘Life in London/ Delhi’ with the best one being selected to be screened in the partner school immediately before the final. There is a week to go before the deadline but I have already been impressed with some of the topics including space, mobile phones, cars, medicine and Group H’s draft presentation on Maths in Electricity which actually introduces the concept of calculus . The four best research projects will be selected and those groups will then have to present their findings to both schools via Skype after which point the winning team will be chosen.

To find out more about Project Jugaad visit  http://projectjugaad.yolasite.com/