Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Joy of Codes and Ciphers

I have been considering The Cryptoclub: Using Mathematics to Make and Break Secret Codes by Janet Beissinger for DS for some time now. Not only for its subject matter but also because it looks like a highly visual sorta book, just the type I like. The publishers are offering a free pdf download of the workbook pages too (and check out the companion website here). We have a trip back to Malaysia planned for the coming semester so with my plans to give math curricula a break, this might be a great book to throw into the suitcase.

DS has had lots of fun working through code-style math workbooks I've listed here. I thought I'd provide a carousel of some of the purely code/ cipher based books he's read in the past too for anyone who has a cipher-crazy kid like mine.
I must say that the whole code/ cipher concept has been a huge help for us in DS' learning journey. When he was a baby, we focused a lot on teaching reading and less on math. I often wondered how I would teach him math when it wasn't a strong subject for me.

Then, when DS was about two and a half, he started showing a propensity for numbers and finding hidden words in longer strings of words (he was already reading and sounding out simple phrases by then). The hubby thought playing word-number games would be a good start for DS' math journey. We started writing simple codes for him to solve. E.g. we'd write a list of addition sentences like 2 + 3, 1 + 5 and so on and equate the answers to an alphabet. If he got the answers right, he'd spell out a hidden code word and this made him so excited that deciphering codes became his preferred way to learn math. Of course at that age, I did most of the writing out for him but he could actually figure out the simple math on his own...and he'd do it over and over just to decipher the code.

Once we'd figured out that he loved codes so much, he was an easier child to deal with 24/7. We didn't drive then so we'd ride the bus or MRT (what the subway in Singapore is called) and keep him busy by giving him addition or subtraction codes to crack on his little Magna Doodle. Each time there was a meltdown on the horizon, out would come the Magna Doodle. Phew!

It's a pretty time-intensive way to teach a kid but when you have only one kid and when you want him to love learning and do it joyfully as opposed to thinking of it as a chore, I would say it's worth all the effort. In the end, this is how he learnt most of his math operations, from addition and subtraction to fractions.

I would strongly recommend using codes for any math-reluctant child too. Usually, because the focus is on cracking the code instead of the algorithms, the child might find it infinitely more enjoyable. I know I wish I was taught this way too.

A few more codes/ cipher links for code lovers:
For an extensive list of code/ cipher resources, be sure to visit Subadra's fantastic blog.


  1. That's a great idea about the codes on the magna doodle!

  2. Oh functioned as both pacifier (kiddo's) and lifesaver (mom's) for at least 3 years!!


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