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Boost Password Savvy with a Classroom STEM Game

A classroom activity helps students explore questions related to password security. Conversations about cyber security and safeguarding personal information online are important to have with students, and activities like Password Duel help students engage directly with these concepts through fun, educational, hands-on exploration, testing, and data analysis in a game designed specifically for classroom use.

Boost Password Savvy with a Classroom STEM Game / Classroom Activity for K-12 Educators

With more and more activities taking place online, and students setting up accounts for everything from social media to school management tools and virtual classrooms, cyber security is an increasingly important issue for students to understand. Being smart about online passwords involves more than simply not telling someone else a password or not keeping it written down and taped somewhere obvious.

What makes a good password? How can students develop smart password strategies?

A new classroom activity at Science Buddies helps students explore password security in a fun science activity that lets students experience firsthand how adding layers of complexity to passwords can strengthen passwords and make them harder to guess.

A Password Cracking Challenge for the Classroom

There is a difference between what makes a password difficult for another human to guess and what it takes to make a password difficult to guess for a computer program that has been designed to crack passwords and can run through hundreds of thousands of possibilities in a matter of seconds. The Password Duel classroom activity helps students see and better understand how password strength increases with complexity and variation. Learning to make smart choices about passwords to help prevent other individuals being able to guess them is a step towards smart online behavior.

In the Password Duel activity, students play a game in which they try and guess the password of an opposing team member. In each round, teams are assigned different kinds of passwords. As a class, students track data related to how many times each kind of password is guessed. The more rounds played, the more data students are able to collect, and the more apparent the results will be.

What is easier to guess? A single digit password 0-9? A double-digit password 0-99? A single lowercase letter password (a-z)? A two-character password that can use numbers 0-99 or lowercase letters (a-z)? What happens if you add punctuation marks in a password? What happens if you increase the number of characters allowed? How can you determine the number of possible combinations for a password? The answers to some of these questions may seem obvious, but this classroom activity engages students directly with the concept of password security (and password theft) and lets them observe how the strength of a password is related to certain variables involved in creating a password.

For testing purposes, the activity uses very short passwords for the rounds of the Password Duel activity. After the activity, teacher and students can talk about the data they gathered, what they observed when trying to guess different kinds of passwords, and about ways to extend what they observed into real-world practices.

Both an educator guide and a student guide are available for this classroom activity.

Making Connections

For students interested in password security, the following projects and activities may also be of interest:

Projects and resources related to cyber security are supported by EMC, a proud sponsor of Science Buddies.

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