Sunday, February 28, 2016

Decrypt the Secret Document: A mathematical classroom challenge

I found this activity made by Anne Ho of Coastal Carolina University by way of Facebook.  It's written for a calculus class, but could be adapted for other levels.  The idea is that some secret document is encrypted with a 6 digit code, and the students solve math problems to find the code.  There are 6 sets of 6 problems, and in each set the answers sum to a digit of the code.  The students have two tries to unlock the document, and so must work together to ensure that all of the answers are correct.

Obviously, the format limits the types of problems that can be asked, and requires some work to force the sum of 6 answers to be a one-digit number.  But it sounds like it would be a lot of fun, and would encourage team work and careful checking of answers.

In a graded class, the document could be solutions to next week's quiz, the statement of one of the problems that will be on the upcoming exam, etc.  I'm not sure what the content of the document would be for a non-graded program like a math circle... maybe you bring in some sort of special treat and put its location in the document (or maybe they'll find out that the cake is a lie)?  Or the document contains a funny math joke? Or a silly picture of the instructor? Be creative!

I want to try this with my middle school math circle group... it could be a fun way to incorporate some "school math" (which we usually shy away from)... maybe with each group of 6 at a different level (some requiring algebra 1, some only using 5th grade math) so that everyone can participate.

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