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Star Library: Breaking the Code -- A Graphical Exploration Using Bar Charts

Star Library: Breaking the Code -- A Graphical Exploration Using Bar Charts

The Caesar Shift is a translation of the alphabet; for example, a five-letter shift would code the letter a as f, b as g, ... z as e. We describe a five-step process for decoding an encrypted message. First, groups of size 4 construct a frequency table of the letters in two lines of a coded message. Second, students construct a bar chart for a reference message of the frequency of letters in the English language. Third, students create a bar chart of the coded message. Fourth, students visually compare the bar chart of the reference message (step 2) to the bar chart of the coded message (step 3). Based on this comparison, students hypothesize a shift. Fifth, students apply the shift to the coded message. After decoding the message, students are asked a series of questions that assess their ability to see patterns. The questions are geared for higher levels of cognitive reasoning.

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