Secret Codes and Mysteries!

Grades: 6th–8th (5th graders contact teacher first)

Live Class:  Wed 12:00–1:00 p.m. ET

Dates: Aug 22–Dec 19

Price: $329

Instructor: Farrar Williams

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Enrollment in this class is currently closed.

Course Description


Do you love puzzles and codes? Have you ever wondered what their history was? Do you think you’re good at solving codes and puzzles? Are you someone who likes to speculate about mysteries?

In this interdisciplinary social studies class, we’ll learn about the history of secret codes from the earliest ciphers to modern cryptography. We’ll see how Julius Caesar used codes, how a secret code helped Queen Elizabeth I maintain her throne, and how British cryptography experts broke a Nazi code machine. This course also explores some of history’s most infamous mysteries, such as what was a mysterious machine from ancient Greece really used for and what happened to the Lost Colony. Finally, we’ll look at ways science can solve some historical mysteries we thought would always be unknown.

Along the way, we’ll hone our problem-solving skills by creating and tackling lots of codes and puzzles. We’ll talk about specific problem-solving strategies. At the end of the course, one student will win a prize for being the top code breaker and puzzle solver.

Course Structure

We’ll explore history with two units. The first will cover secret codes. The second will focus on great historical mysteries. In the first unit, we’ll have a single book. Students will need to read one chapter per week. In the second unit, we’ll have a variety of readings that I’ll provide. Each unit will have a class presentation and a writing assignment.

In addition, we’ll have a weekly codes and puzzles contest. Students will get points for attempting the secret codes and more points for solving them. Once time is up to submit solutions, we’ll discuss solving strategies in class each week.

Who should enroll?

Students in grades 6-8 who:

  • Are gifted and looking for fun enrichment
  • Love to tinker and solve codes
  • Are looking for an outside the box class
  • Are looking for a unique challenge

Technology Requirements

  • High speed, broadband Internet
  • Sound card and microphone (for live sessions)
  • Students may be asked to scan or take pictures of certain assignments for submission
  • Technology such as PowerPoint or Google Slides will be useful for class presentations

Evaluation and Feedback

My goal as an educator is always to help your student move forward in their skills, whether those are in writing, speaking, or critical thinking. Because we’ll be solving codes, the most important element is participation and attempts

Grades are optional for this course. Students may take the course graded or ungraded. If graded, grades are a reflection of participation in our puzzle challenge (not correct solutions), participation in class, short answer questions about readings, and two short presentations.


Communication is through Canvas. Parents and students are encouraged to reach out. Additionally, I provide a short narrative report about your student’s performance at the end of the semester.


Required Texts


The following book is required for this class:

  • The Code Book: The Secrets Behind Codebreaking by Simon Singh, ISBN 10: 0385730624

Please note that this is the young reader’s edition of Simon Singh’s adult book with the same title. Our edition has a blue cover. Don’t confuse it with the adult book, which has a tan cover and is probably too much for many students to handle!

  • All other readings will be provided.


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Instructor Bio

Farrar Williams

Farrar Williams is a longtime educator with experience teaching in a variety of settings and levels. She has her undergraduate degree in history from Mount Holyoke College and her master’s in education and teaching from Goddard College. Farrar spent many years as a humanities teacher and administrator at a small Quaker middle school, where she honed her belief that education is a process, not a product, and that the goal is to bring out each student’s individual light. For the last decade and a bit, she has been homeschooling her sons, writing, and teaching in homeschool co-ops and drama groups. In addition to teaching, she’s currently an educational consultant and works with homeschool families on college admissions. When not teaching or working, Farrar is probably solving sudoku, reading a YA novel, or trying to resist putting in another batch of peanut butter chocolate chip cookies. She lives in Washington, DC.

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