While travelling in the UK, I was thrilled to visit Bletchley Park, Milton Keynes, UK. This little town, around 45 minutes north of London, is not that well known, but was the centre of a major war effort during WWII. In fact, many of the most closely guarded secrets surrounding what went on at Bletchley Park during the war were only made public in the 1980s.
The technology developed at Bletchley Park by Alan Turing, Tommy Flowers and a huge team of workers has echoes even today, in electronic programmable computers and secure encryption and decryption of messages.
Here is the video, including a shot in front of the mansion, and shots of the Bombe and Colossus:
If you have the opportunity, do visit Bletchley Park. I would recommend that you go alone at first to check out the site before taking students. There are a lot of displays spread over a large site, so you would need to plan which parts to see. Depending on the age of the students, there are many aspects of the history of WWII and the part mathematics played in the allied war effort which could be the focus of study.
If you teach computer science, then you have to look at the “Bombe” and the “Colossus”, two machines invented at Bletchley to defeat the German codes. The actual machines were destroyed after the war, and have now been rebuilt. The Bombe appears in the 2001 movie “Enigma“, which fictionalises the story behind cracking the enigma codes, and sadly was not actually filmed at Bletchley. Still, it is an entertaining movie, in my view, and well worth a look. Tony Sale, the person responsible for the Colossus rebuild was an expert consultant for the movie, so we can be pretty sure that they got those details right.
This map shows Bletchley Park and some of the key buildings on the site, as well as the location of the first part of the video:
View Bletchley Park in a larger map
- Bletchley Park Official Site
- Wikipedia entry
- History Article on Bletchley Park – well written, very worth a read
- The Bombe Rebuild
- The Colossus Rebuild
- “Lorenz ciphers and the Colossus” by Tony Sale, curator of the Bletchley Museum
- “Enigma” movie site on IMDB.com
Do you include “secret” codes in your teaching of primary, elementary or middle school students? Is is possible to teach this sort of topic to “non-geeks” as well as those students who will love anything to do with codes and computers?