Aiming for awesome: code breaking


Funded by the Chancellor using LIBOR funds

RAF 100: Aiming for Awesome celebrates the centenary of the RAF and explores its engineering achievements over the last 100 years. There are 10 resources, each covering a different decade of RAF history. Each resource allows Key Stage 2 and 3 pupils to explore, through hands on activities, the applications of the knowledge they learn in science, design and technology, mathematics and computing.

1958 - 1968 Code breaking

The aim of this resource is to give students the opportunity to investigate the impact of STEM on code breaking and security. 

Students will learn about espionage and the history of the 'Cold War' between the Eastern Bloc (the Soviet Union and its satellite states) and the Western Bloc (the USA and its NATO allies).  There was no fighting between the sides and secrecy and spying, or espionage, were a big part of the tensions.

Practical activities will see students coding, or encrypting, messages to keep them a secret from enemies.

Student activities


Time to make: there are many ways to code, or encrypt, a message to keep it secret from your enemies.  One way to encrypt a message is to use a substitution cypher, which replaces one letter with another.  A step-by-step guide is provided for students to make their very own encryption machine to send a message using Caesar Shift 2.  For example 'a' becomes 'b', 'b' becomes 'c' and so on.  

Stretch and challenge: to ensure easy transfer of messages, the same encryption would be used for all messages in a day, changing at midnight each day.  The activity asks students to work out the right code to transcribe an intercepted message.  Once the code has been worked out, a series of messages are provided for students to de-code.


The activities are expected to last 60 minutes.

What you'll need

The following items per student:

Student guide

The student version of this resource can be downloaded here: Code breaking - student guide

Supported by

  • Royal Academy of Engineering
  • RAF 100
  • 2018 YoE