I had a book when I was a kid which was all about how to be a spy. Characters in trenchcoats, hats and dark glasses lurked furtively on every page. They would give tips like ‘you can bend down to “tie your shoelaces” and use that as an opportunity to hide a coded message for your friend to find later.’ Not surprisingly, it also had a lot of codes and ciphers in it. With so much of their lives being directed by other people, there is a real appeal to kids in this sort of thing. It is thrilling to be able to communicate secretly.
At his homeschool group, the idea of codes came up between my youngest boy and a friend of his. They spent a lot of time coming up with a cipher they could use to write messages to each other. The pair of them were very secretive about the whole thing. No one was allowed to see what they were up to.
They thought this was great, and somewhere over the couple of days they were playing around with it, someone explained morse code to them. He really got into the idea of morse code and decided that what all the kids needed was a lesson in how to use morse code. He fielded this idea to the group. They are very communicate as a collective, and regularly get together in circles to discuss what they want out of their days. The idea was enthusiastically received, and fifteen kids said they all wanted him to give a lesson on using morse code.
He came home, announced his intention and then set about making a powerpoint presentation. This was an idea he had picked up from school. Presentations are made in powerpoint. They dont have a projector, or a computer at the homeschool group, but that was a minor detail.
He made an intoductory slide that laid out the points he wanted to talk about and then went hunting on the internet for information. His mum suggested that he didnt want too many slides, or too many words on each one. In the end, he trimmed it down to four slides – the title page and three more with information. I helped him find a good picture that deciphered the alphabet, and then printed out a bunch of copies for him to hand out.
What I especially loved about this whole episode, is that he just thought it up and did it all by himself. Outside of the couple of pointers I mentioned, we didnt have anything to do with it, nor did he want us to. This was his show.
We had a few conversations about morse code and how neat it is, because you can use it in so many different forms. You can transmit it via telegraph like it was originally designed for, or write it down as series of dots and dashes. You can use it as a series of flashes from a light or reflected from a mirror. This led us to briefly touch on heliographs, which I think are really neat. We got onto more unconventional uses which I remember hearing from stories about prisoners of war. You can tap out your message and send it along water pipes, or use the rhythm of a broom as you sweep a courtyard to talk to someone. We had quite a bit of fun playing around with these ideas, but mostly, he just wanted to tell his friends about it.
The big day came but, disappointingly, he missed the necessary moment to catch the crowds enthusiasm and nobody was interested in hearing his lesson. Understandably, he was pretty upset about this. He had gone to a lot of effort and wanted a success. We talked it over, and arranged for someone to give him a good lead in to it next week. Those kids are going to hear about morse code whether they want to or not.