St Thomas of Canterbury, 7 June 2019

At Bletchley Juniors Codebreaking Club this week we used the Dancing Men Cipher, from the Sherlock Holmes short story of the same name.


Our activity was to make a set of Ancient Greece Top Trumps playing cards. I had made the cards, featuring an image, a description and the statistics, but without the name of the god, goddess, mortal or creature. The children had to decode the name using the cipher, then write it on the card. There were 34 cards in total, which the children completed between them. We then had a game of Top Trumps. The magic category was the most popular.  We finished with a matching pairs memory game: the pairs were all characters from Ancient Greece. These activities really helped to consolidate the children’s growing knowledge of Ancient Greece mythology.

St Thomas of Canterbury, 24 May 2019

At Bletchley Juniors Codebreaking Club this week we practised some vexillology i.e. the study of flags. I bought some Harry Potter World theme park maps. I then wrote a sequence of instructions to navigate the way around the theme park. I added North and West coordinates to the maps. I then encoded the locations of various places on the map using flag designs, with colours representing numbers. The children were able to successfully decode the flag colours as map coordinates, then read the coordinates on the map to find the location. I threw in some questions about each location, to extend those children who were Harry Potter fans. The other children enjoyed the combination of flags and maps, and having their first go at reading map coordinates.

St Thomas of Canterbury, 17 May 2019

At Bletchley Juniors Codebreaking Club this week I introduced the children to a Cardan Grille, making sure they knew that this use of the grille refers to a type of window not to a way of cooking sausages.

I explained that the grille can be used eight different ways i.e. it has two faces, and can be rotated four times.  The activity this week was collective nouns e.g. a pride of lions. I prepared squares containing 36 letters in a 6 x 6 square. I made grilles with 12 windows. I arranged the letters so that in only one of the eight possible options was there a word that made sense. The words were all the nouns i.e. animals, birds or fish. Once the children had decoded the set of nouns, I gave them pictures to match to the nouns.

cardan grille2
My grille looked a bit like this, except with 12 windows. 

The next task was to decode the collective words. I had encoded these using Shadow’s Code, which we used several weeks ago but had not been seen by some of the children who have joined our club since then. Once the collective words were decoded, the children had to match this to the noun.  This was the hardest part of the activity and required a bit of a steer from us. 

Some of our favourite collective nouns were: a smack of jellyfish; a crash of hippos; a shiver of sharks, and a fever of stingrays.

Newport, 17 May 2019

We played Backgammon again this week at our Adults Board Games Club. We also played Nine Men’s Morris. One game of Backgammon was the closest and most exciting at the end that one of our members had experienced. It all came down to the roll of the dice.

St Thomas of Canterbury, 10 May 2019

At Bletchley Juniors Codebreaking Club this week we explored Binary Code. I explained how computers use binary code to send and receive information, using a series of 1s and 0s to encode letters and numbers. We used UTF-8 as our binary code, so I explained that each 1 and 0 is a bit, and eight bits make a byte. We talked briefly about the difference between megabytes, gigabytes and terabytes.


Our activity was to make a name chain using beads. I showed them an example of one I had made earlier for my name. I got the children to write out their name (first name and surname) on paper, then encode it in binary code. Using black beads to represent the 1s and white beads to represent the 0s, I got the children to thread the beads onto a piece of nylon string. To make it easier to decode later, and easier to check for mistakes, the children put a coloured bead between each byte (letter). Some children had time to make a chain featuring both their first name and surname, others only their first name. The children seemed to really enjoy this activity: I could sense they were ‘in the moment’ as they threaded their beads according to whether the bit was a 1 or a 0.

One child noticed that we were doing Binary Code on 10 May, and asked if this was on purpose i.e. the binary digits 1 and 0 matching the date. I could have pretended I had done it by design, but I confessed that it was a coincidence!

St Thomas of Canterbury, 3 May 2019

At Bletchley Juniors Codebreaking Club this week I took advantage of tomorrow being Star Wars Day (May the Fourth be with you) to use Star Wars as the theme.

star wars day

The code I used was called Cross Code, a little bit similar to pigpen, but with numbers. The first activity was to decode famous quotes from the films, then say which character the quote was from. I made it a little easier by giving a choice of three answers. My favourite example: “Will somebody get this big walking carpet out of my way?”. The answer of course is Princess Leia Organa.


I don’t think the children enjoyed this activity quite as much as I enjoyed putting it together for them. Even though they had all told me they had watched Star Wars most of them were not as familiar the famous quotes as I had hoped.

The other activities included: mazes, wordsearches, dot to dots, a matching pairs memory game, and Star Wars algebra. With our spirit of aiming high, we introduced some of our Year 4 and Year 5 children to algebra. With a bit of explanation they were able to find the correct answer.