The CryptoClub curriculum teaches cryptography and mathematics to middle-grade students (grades 6 – 8) in afterschool settings. Teachers have found it also works well in enrichment programs and elective classes during the school day. There is enough material for over 20 one-hour sessions, but the curriculum is flexible enough that students can benefit from shorter programs. To see CryptoClubs in action, view The CryptoClub, a three-minute video.
What happens in a CryptoClub?
During a typical session, students are introduced to a cipher (method of encrypting), and then practice it through games and activities that involve secret messages. In some activities students move around, for example, in a treasure hunt, they follow a trail of encrypted clues around the school to find a hidden treasure. In a relay race, teams runback and forth, competing to be the first to gather and decrypt the parts of a secret message. In other activities student sit more quietly and think deeply about patterns that might help to break a code. The CryptoClub website, cryptoclub.org, provides additional games and challenges for continued exploration. Some clubs may further student learning by making video tutorials in which students explain their solutions to mathematics and cryptography problems.
What is the academic content in CryptoClub?
In addition to cryptography, CryptoClub applies mathematics topics from the middle-school curriculum, such as decimals and percents, division with remainder, common factors, and negative numbers. It also applies pre-algebra skills, such as pattern recognition and problem solving. CryptoClub offers many opportunities for students to develop the mathematical habits listed in Standards for Mathematical Practice from the Common Core State Standards. For detailed discussion of the mathematics content in CryptoClub see the two documents: Mathematics in CryptoClub and CryptoClub Connections to CCSSM. A teacher wrote: “It was valuable for students to see over and over that there wasn’t one formula to solve each puzzle or crack each code—that they had to employ a variety of strategies and consider the reasonableness of their answers along the way.”
Who comes to CryptoClub?
Cryptoclub appeals to students of all abilities. Students enjoy the problem solving involved with cracking, decoding, and encoding the various ciphers as they gain understanding of an exciting real world application of mathematics. Students who usually do well in math thrive in CryptoClub because it uses mathematics related to what they study in school. But students who do not usually excel in math often experience success in Cryptoclub because it uses mathematics in different ways. CryptoClub students say: “What I liked the most is that it made me better at math.” “I learned how to do more math things.” “We all had fun together and I got to make new friends.” “I liked it because it was something new.” “It was something I hadn’t heard about.” “Yeah, it was really cool – a new experience.”
What is a CryptoClub Video Tutorial Club?
In some CryptoClubs, students extend their learning by making video tutorials about their solutions to mathematics and cryptography problems. They use a variety of technologies to make their tutorials, such as tablets, Smartboards, cameras, and software that captures their game-play at cryptoclub.org. Making video tutorials can be an exciting way to for students to think more deeply about mathematics and practice communication skills. CryptoClub Leaders who are interested in including tutorial making as part of their activities are welcome to attend a Video Tutorial Training Workshop.

What materials are needed to lead a CryptoClub program?
Students should each have their own CryptoClub Cipher Handbook, which introduces the topics and provides practice in a write-on, workbook format. Calculators are recommended, as is access to the Internet so students can use the CryptoClub.org website. The CryptoClub Leader Manual gives suggestions for introducing the material, provides blackline masters for games and extra activities, and discusses common errors and connections to middle-school mathematics. Both are available for purchase through the UIC Bookstore of the Unviersity of Illinois at Chicago.