Enigma Machines 


 Early on in the scholarships programme, we attended a CPD event hosted by the scholarships team in Birmingham. One of the highlights of the day was making an enigma machine out of a pringles tube.

Once I arrived in my first placement school, one of the first things I looked for was an opportunity to do the same with some students. 

The school I was working in, Thurston Community College in Suffolk, runs a lunchtime club for gifted and talented maths students every week, alternating between KS3 and KS4. Following discussions with my colleagues in the maths department, we agreed this was the ideal place to give enigma machines a go. 

I visited each of the clubs two weeks before we were due to make the machines, firstly to prime them to bring in a pringles tube for their next session, and secondly to talk about enigma, Bletchley Park, and ciphers in general. 

What was really surprising was the amount many of the students already knew. Many had been to Bletchley Park, and knew a lot of the information we found out on the Scholars’ super visit in November, such as the way that weather reports from the North Atlantic were sometimes used to crack the codes. 

Two weeks later, everyone arrived with their pringles tube, and we set to work making our enigma machines. They seemed to really enjoy the practical aspect of making something physical, but it was when we started to discuss the way the machines worked that things got really interesting! 

We used their school initials – TCC – as the key in the machine, and we worked through a simple encryption before explaining how to work ͞backwards͟ from an encoded message. We also went through some of the more advanced ways they could adapt their machines, and they all took away the rest of the enigma kit to carry on with at home. 

Overall the students (and the two teachers) had a great time doing something a bit different. One of the really positive things is that they have gone away with something tangible which they can adapt and make more advanced themselves. We also discussed how if they agreed the parameters between them (e.g. the key, the rotors, the plugboard combinations), they could communicate with each other using their enigma machines.

It was a really fun thing to be involved with as a teacher as the students clearly got so much out of it. It would also be great to be able to use it to link in with other subject areas such as computer science and history. It’s an activity with a huge amount of potential so now I am about to start at my second placement school, I definitely hope I get the chance to repeat the experience there!

By Daniel Summers