G.A.S. Book Activities / Lesson Plans / Homeschool Ideas

Quarkum Reading a BookWhy Engage in Galactic Academy of Science (GAS) Activities?

Or better yet, why not start a GAS Book & Activity Club?

The GAS Club experience is like a combination of chatting with your friends after a great movie, imagining what the next comic book issue will be about, exploring a science museum with your best friends, building a fantasy sandcastle on the beach, and standing in line for an autograph from your favorite singer.

A GAS Book and Activities Club is a cool and fun get-together for you and your friends. Even if you have a book club already, you can start a special GAS Club event within your club.

Books are more fun when you talk about them with friends!

This is a chance to broaden your circle of friends and meet new people in your community.

You can share your club’s ideas, experiments, and artwork with a network of GAS clubs around the world.

Visit our Facebook Page


How to start a Galactic Academy of Science Book and Activities Club

Gather a group of friends who are interested in reading, doing, and discussing science together. Post notices in the library, a bookstore, your school and online.

Choose a place and time to meet.  You could try a library after school or a corner of the lunchroom, or you could rotate among the members’ houses. If you’re reading pretty long books, you might want to meet once a month, but if you’re reading shorter books, or reading only a few chapters at the time, you could meet as often as every week.

Choose a name for your book club.

Select an initial book list. Consider choosing a mix of fiction and non-fiction. Once your club gets going, you might want to vote on new books so you can follow up on new interests, but it’s good to have a short list to start, so members can buy or borrow the books in advance. A good starting point for finding books is the Tumblehome GAS Book List [Link here. I will construct this online, expanding list] or the GAS Science Book and Activity Clubs Facebook page. You can also ask for advice at the library or a local bookstore. Often, bookstore owners will give book clubs a special price.

Assign one member of the group to lead the discussion at each meeting. That member can do a little extra research on the author or topic of the book and can also prepare a few discussion questions.

If you plan ahead, you may be able to get the book’s author to visit your meeting by Skype. To get a Tumblehome Learning author on your schedule, email us at authorvisits@tumblehomelearning.com.

A book club meeting will be richer if you can plan an activity that relates in some way to the book you’re reading. The activity could be as simple as making paper airplanes or as complex as a field trip to a museum. Many of the books in the recommended list include suggestions for activities.

Snacks are a great idea at any meeting. Maybe you can tie them to the theme of the book.

Share your experiences and ideas! Let’s build a network of GAS book clubs and share recommendations for books and experiments. Come share on Facebook.


General Discussion Questions for books with a science theme

Is this book fiction or non-fiction?  If it’s fiction, which parts of the science you read about are factual, and which parts are speculative or made up?

How would you describe the main characters? What are they like? In what ways are they similar to or different from you?

Were there any unfamiliar words, or any concepts that were confusing for you? Discussing them in the group may help to make them clearer.

What new areas of science did this book open up for you? What would you like to learn more about? Where can you learn more?

How did the main characters grow or change over the course of the book?

What did you find out about the practice of science by reading this book?

If you were doing the kind of science you read about in the book, what would be your next question or invention?

What science activities could you do, at home or in a club, that relate to the science in the book?


General Suggested Activities for the books

Identify which science topics are interesting to your club. Some books include activities or have guides to suggested activities.  If not, ask each member to choose a topic and research online for safe activities that can be done by the club. Have an adult select one and lead the activity.

Visit a local toy store or search online for science kits that are related to the book’s science topics. Discuss which one would be fun for the club and try it out.

Ask an adult for help to find a professional scientist or engineer to come in and do a demonstration.

Act out or create displays of key scenes in the book, or build props or models that illustrate science phenomena.

Play videos of cool science experiments that are related to the science in the books.

Let us know what you did and how it worked!


Sample Discussion Guides & Activities for THL’s G.A.S. Books



by Pendred Noyce

Do you think Clinton should go back in the soccer game after he hits his head? What if his team is losing without him?

Do you think the stranger is taking money from a father on the other team?  If so, why is he doing that?

Imhotep says he practices medicine differently from other physicians. How is his practice different?

In what ways does Avicenna use science to practice medicine? What does he have right or wrong about the brain?

Why is the autopsy Broca is doing when the kids arrive important? What does he demonstrate that advances knowledge? What next steps of discovery should his finding lead to?

Ramon y Cajal always wanted to be an artist, but he eventually followed his father into medicine. How did he manage to use his talent? What important argument about nerve cells was he able to resolve?

Gama developed a model of what happens to the brain with a blow to the head. What was his model? Why was it important? What are the limits of a model like his?  How could it be improved?

Explain how Levi-Montalcini proved that nerve growth factor was given off by tumor cells. If you were she, what would be your next step in finding more out about nerve growth factor? Why do you think it is important?

How would you expect the National Football League to respond to Bennet Omalu’s discovery? Do you think the fact that he is a foreigner with no real knowledge of football affected how his report was received?

What are the symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)? What kinds of events seem to lead to a higher risk?  How much risk of getting CTE would you be willing to take in return for a career in pro sports?

What are some precautions to take against getting a concussion? How can you tell if you or a friend get a concussion, and what are some suggestions for actions to take if you do?

What to you think of Selectra’s judgment in this book? Did she make good decisions?  How about Clinton?



1. Trephining an egg

Trephining was the process of drilling a hole in the skull, often to let out pain or bad feelings. It was practiced in many ancient cultures, including ancient Egypt and South America.  Provide club members each with a raw egg on a plate or dish. Try to make a hole in the egg without cracking it. Possible tools include a toothpick, a paperclip, a screw, a pocketknife, or something else of your choice.  Can you make a hole without breaking the membrane surrounding the egg?

2. Microscope drawing  (following Ramon y Cajal)

If you have access to a microscope or a magnifying glass, look through the lens at some object of interest and draw it as accurately as possible. Flowers, bugs, dried fruits, or vegetables are interesting objects.  Does drawing make you look more closely and notice something you might otherwise have missed?

3. Modeling concussion (following Gama)

Make colored Jell-o in different clear containers, such as a plastic water bottle and a glass bottle or jar. Strike the side of the container as Gama did and observe the disturbances and distortions you see. For variation, suspend pieces of spaghetti or string in the jello before it hardens. These strings can represent nerve axons running through the brain tissue.  Challenge: can you find a way of making sure you hit each container with the same force during your investigation, so that any comparisons you make will be fair? What happens if you hit the jar with a glancing blow instead of one that is straight on?

4. Protecting the head (following the entire book)

Can you build a “helmet” for an egg that will keep it from breaking when it falls off a table?  The group can start with a container that covers the whole egg, but eventually, constraints should be introduced.  The egg head needs to be able to “see,” and the helmet should be as compact as possible.   Possible materials include egg carton, foam cups, tape, rubber bands, paper, and anything else you can find.

5. Concussion testing

One common test looks at reaction time. Have one group member hold a yardstick high, while another member waits with open hand surrounding the yardstick toward its bottom, say at five inches.  Without warning, the holder releases the yardstick. The catcher, reacting as quickly as she can, closes her hand and catches the falling yardstick. The number of inches that have passed the hand serves as a measure of reaction time.  Get a couple of baseline measurements, then spin the catcher around ten times and repeat the measurement.



by Pendred Noyce

Describe Sam and Clinton as characters. Are they likable? Do they like each other?  Why or why not?

In what ways does the Chinese magistrate Song Ci use science? How does his work relate to current TV shows on forensics, like CSI?

What are some similarities and differences in the way Luigi Galvani and his nephew Giovanni Aldini do science?

Zora Neale Hurston studies folklore.  Talk about some ways in which this could lead to new scientific knowledge.

What does Count Karnice-Karnicki’s invention tell us about our ideas about death? What does the work of Alcor Life Extension Foundation tell us about the same thing?

What evidence do you see that Sam is changing throughout the book?  How about Clinton or Mae?

Discuss Wade Davis’s ideas about how zombies are created.  Do you think he is right?  Why or why not?

How are people affected by kuru like zombies?  How are they different?

Discuss an example of zombie animals. Do you think a parasite could turn a person into a zombie?

How does Sam decide his father is in danger, and what does he do about it? What do his actions show about him?

Are zombies real? Share your evidence.

In most GAS books, Selectra Volt or Quarkum Phonon set up the mission and congratulate the kids when it’s done. How is the mission set up this time? Selectra never visits Clinton after the mission.  How does he know he’s done a good job?



1. Zombie Brain Slime

Search online for zombie brain slime or order from Tumblehome.  Have each club member come up with a creative use for the slime as a zombie costume, or a disgusting activity, or gruesome experiment.

2. Bloody wounds

Ask an adult to mix red food coloring with hydrogen peroxide in a spray bottle.  Take a potato and make small cuts using a plastic knife.  Spray the wound and in a short while you will see foaming red ooze coming out of the wound.  The hydrogen peroxide is reacting with catalase enzyme which has come out from the cut potato cells.

3. Zombie Food

Search online for brain molds or order from Tumblehome.  Prepare colored gelatin mix according to package instructions and pour into mold.  You can add color or some fruits (not pineapple – it makes it mushy) to the gelatin to make a tasty brain dessert.

4. Coffin Caller

This activity is meant more as a prank.  Search online or order from Tumblehome a recordable greeting card.  Find a sneaky place or object to attach the card so that when someone opens the object the card opens.  Record a spooky message onto the card and test the pranks out on each other.

5. Movie magic

Download Zombie FX onto your tablet and create chase scenes with your friends.  The app uses augmented reality to create simulated zombie attacks.  Your friends will need to be good actors to play along.  Record and play back all the action to share with everyone.


Discussion questions for THE CRYPTIC CASE OF THE CODED FAIR

by Barbara and Robert Tinker and Pendred Noyce

Describe and discuss some of the ways of making codes and ciphers you learned about:

How does Caesar’s substitution code work?  Can you think of variations? Would it be easy to crack?

How does Alberti’s code wheel work?  How is it an improvement on Caesar’s code?

What are code books? How can they be used in combination with other codes and ciphers?

How does Cardano’s grille work?  Can you create a 4 by 4 turning grille?  A 5 by 5?

How is Jefferson’s wheel cylinder an advance over Alberti’s code wheel?

What is the purpose of the repeater word or words in a Vinegar (Vigenère) Table?

Discuss what you learned about breaking codes from al-Kindi and the Friedmans.

Why do you think Quarkum chose these four kids for this mission?

Why does Dr G want to ruin the science fair?  How does he plan to do it? How do the kids plan to stop him, and what happens?

What does Anita do when she gets in a tight spot? What do codes have to do with her plan?

How do the relations among the four kid Codesters evolve over the course of the book?  What kinds of contributions do the different kids make to completing the mission?

What are some uses for codes and ciphers today?


1. Code Wheel

Make a code wheel like Alberti’s. Take two paper plates. Trim about half an inch off the edge of one plate. Carefully measure off even spaces around each plate—26 if you want letters only, more if you also want numbers. Write the alphabet around the edge of both plates, one in alphabetical order and one in random order. Attach the two plates at the center with a brad or pin. Create a code by choosing a starting position and rotating the outer plate one space to the right after every letter you write.  Write a short message and see if your friends can decode it if you give them the starting place.  What if you don’t?

2. Cardano Grille

Create a Cardano grille.  Draw and cut out a grille on paper or card stock using the pattern in the book. Create a short message, encode it, and see if your friends can decode it as described in the book.

3. Cylinder Cipher Wheel Challenge

Figure out a way, using Styrofoam cups or some other material, to create a cylinder cipher machine like Thomas Jefferson’s.

4. Computer Code

Download the computer program at http://www.tumblehomelearning.com/codes.  Create and decipher coded messages for each other using the program.

5. Barcode Generator

Search online for a free barcode generator, create a message, and print out the barcode.  Tape it over a normal bar code (e.g., notebook, paperclip box, or cereal box) and pass it your friend who can use a barcode reader app to decode the message.



by Barnas Monteith

Describe Benson, Anita, and Quarkum.  Which of them do you think you’re most like? Why?

What observations make Benson and Anita suspicious about Dr. Brummagem’s new fossil?

What is stratigraphy? How does Shen Kuo explain it to his visitors?  How does he figure out that the earth was laid down in layers, with the oldest one at the bottom?

What qualities of Mary Anning make her so good at finding fossils?  What is her theory about the fossils she finds in the rocks?

Find some pictures of pterosaurs and pterosaur fossils online. In what ways are the fossil skeletons similar to those of other dinosaurs or of birds?

What would it be like to work with Roy Chapman Andrews in Mongolia?

Jack Horner thinks birds evolved from dinosaurs.  What evidence can you think of that supports or weighs against this idea?

What is integrity in science?  In paleontology? In what ways does Dr. Brummagem act without integrity?

By the end of the book, what evidence have Anita and Benson gathered to support their suspicions of Dr. Brummagem?

Which scientist are you most like? In what ways?

What new fossil findings have you heard about recently in the news?



1. Excavation kit

Most kids like the process of excavating and putting together “fossils.”  You can find one fossil excavation kit here: http://tumblehomelearning.com/product/4-pack-dinosaur-excavation-kit-package-dig-out-build-your-own-dinosaur/

2. Stratigraphy Cake

A good snack for this book could be a cake made by pouring layers of different colors of cake, e.g. vanilla, yellow, chocolate, into a single pan. You could hide different candy objects in different layers. Kids can help make the cake, or once it’s cooked they can examine how the layers may look different in different parts of the cake, just as rock layers can look different in different landscapes.

3. Dinosaur puzzles

Fossils of different dinosaurs can be found mixed together. It takes time to sort and assemble them.  There are a number of wooden dinosaur puzzle kits available in stores (or Tumblehome).  Take two different ones and mix the parts together.  Have the club work together to sort and assemble two dinosaurs.

4. Organic vs. Inorganic

Fossil remains may still have tissue that can be analyzed. You can help visualize organic components by doing a dye test. Dilute food coloring in a glass of water, and drop egg shells and chicken bones into the glass for twenty minutes. The brighter colored areas are where more dye has attached to organic material.

5. Real Fossil Visit

A visit to see fossils at a museum can be a great companion to this book. Better yet, see if there is a place near you where kids can look for real fossils. Several online resources can help you find a place to look. Some are listed below:



by Pendred Noyce

Describe Clinton and Mae.  What are they like at the beginning of the book?

How would you react if someone like Selectra Volt appeared in your living room?

Discuss the séance that the kids attend with Dmitri Mendeleev.  What’s going on there?  What does that scene tell you about the practice of science?

How would you describe the layout of the periodic table of elements?

Act out what Niels Bohr taught the kids about how electrons absorb and re-emit light.  Be creative!

See if you can explain how a transistor works, referring to the book.

William Shockley made assumptions about Mae based on her race.  How does she respond? Have there been times when someone thought you couldn’t do or understand something because of your race, sex, size, age, or something else about you?  How did you respond?

What was the major innovation used in the integrated circuit?  Try and think of as many devices as you can where integrated circuits are used today.

What evidence do Mae and Clinton use to find Professor Gufov’s stolen diamond chip?

If you were doing a science fair project, what would you like to explore?

What devices do you own that could benefit from a Diamond Chip?


1. Spectral Glasses

Purchase diffraction glasses from online or Tumblehome Learning.  The glasses spread light into bands of different wavelengths (colors).  Observe the bands of various light sources such as fluorescent bulbs, tungsten halogen lights, sunlight, and neon lights.  How do the bands differ?  Why?

2. Electroscope

To demonstrate how electrons work, make an electroscope.  For each club member, you will need a paper or plastic cup, a paper clip, two short strips of aluminum foil, and a balloon. Unfold the paperclip into a straight line and place over the cup opening.  Pierce each aluminum sheet and let them hang close to each other in the cup. Blow up a balloon, rub on a fuzzy surface (or your hair), and bring it close to the aluminum foil.  Electrons travel from the balloon to the two aluminum strips, giving them both a negative charge. The two negatives repel one another, and the aluminum strips move apart.

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vhBBQHrdisw&list=UU3c75rEQWdLWs4NvI-edhEA

3. Heat Transfer

You can use temperature-sensitive paper to demonstrate how different materials, such as copper, nickel, or plastic, conduct heat.  You can order a small supply of such paper from Tumblehome Learning.

4. Cutting Through Ice

Another way to experiment with heat conduction is by cutting ice.  For each club member, you will need a saucer, several ice cubes, and disks of different materials, such as plastic, nickel, copper (coins work well), steel or brass (sometimes you can use washers).  The members rub their hands to warm them, then grasp one end of a disk and press the disk firmly into the ice. The warmth of their hands will be conducted through the disk to help melt the ice.  Which material is best for cutting/melting the ice?

5. Sun Lithography

Sun lithography is a good way to approximate the kind of photolithography used in making integrated circuits.  You will need sun sensitive paper (which you can purchase here), scissors, sunlight, and a source of water. You can see a short video about sun lithography here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zfj2EIxHeJk&list=UU3c75rEQWdLWs4NvI-edhEA&index=12



by Pendred Noyce

What are Clinton and Mae arguing about in the beginning of the book? How do they use evidence in making their arguments?

What does Selectra do to make sure the kids don’t get sick on this mission?

What immunization shots have you had in your life?  Discuss the infections these shots were meant to prevent?

How do immunizations work?  Why don’t people get certain diseases (measles, mumps, chicken pox, polio) more than once? Why do they get other diseases (flu or colds) more than once? Why do doctors recommend that people who need flu shots get them every year?

Scientific integrity means being fair, open, and honest in the practice of science. How can the principles of scientific integrity be used in designing a trial of a new vaccine?

In what ways did Louis Pasteur and Jonas Salk show integrity in their research? (Informed consent, blind randomized trial, refusing to take a patent on the polio vaccine.)

What is the difference between bacteria and viruses?

In what ways did Andrew Wakefield show a lack of integrity? (Pre-selected patients, coaching parent answers, changing patient records, hiding a financial conflict of interest.)

How would you describe the benefits of vaccination to a friend? (Include herd immunity,)

What motivated the pharmacist Carl in his actions?  What motivated the politician Margo Smearon?

If a Universal Flu Vaccine was invented, would you want to get it?

If or when a vaccine against Ebola virus is invented but there is a limited supply, who do you think should get the vaccine first?



1. Probabilities

Gather a variety of different dice including the common 6-sided die, but also adding 4-, 8-, and 10- sided ones if available (Tumblehome Learning has these).  Challenge each other to create a set of dice and rolling orders to obtain 1 in 3 chance, 1 in 40 chance, and 1 in 48 chances.  Try other percentages.

2. Viruses Acting Out

Have each club member play a virus or antibody and create a short skit on how the two react.  Use the book as a guide to show how the two interact with each other. Videotape the skit and upload for others to see.

3. Virus Models

Download the virus head model from Tumblehome Learning.  Cut along the solid lines and fold down on the dotted lines.  Use a small amount of clear tape to hold the pieces together.  You have created a icosahedron– the 20-sided head of a virus.  Use other household materials to complete a virus model.

4. Dirtier than it looks

Search for Petri dishes and agar online or order though Tumblehome Learning.  Create testing plates to grow microbes.  Swab an object that you use all the time (e.g., your smartphone) and transfer the sample to the petri dish.  Grow the sample for two days in a dark, warm area.  Observe what has grown and that is what is on your object!

5. Virus Wars Card Game

Tumblehome Learning sells a set of cards that can be used by two to four players.  The card game has viruses and antibody cards that are played to attack and defend the player.  Learn about different types of viruses and how to build immunity.

THL’s Virus Wars Card Game



by Michael Erb

What is a weather detective?  What kinds of mysteries do you think can be solved using knowledge of the weather?

Discuss the set-up of the mystery.  What happened, and why do Kelvin and Henry think it might be murder?

How does a barometer work?  What does air pressure have to do with the weather?

Who are the suspects in the murder? What might be their motives?

Why are the burn marks on the side of the house important? How does Kelvin decide they weren’t caused by lightning?

Describe Rachel and her parents.  How does their relationship compare to Henry’s relationship with Kelvin?

What clues and red herrings (clues that lead us on a wild goose chase) does the author give us in this case?

Discuss one thing you learned about weather, climate, or the seasons from reading this book.


1. Barometer

Gather supplies:  A large clear plastic container with a top; scissors, electronic or silicone tape, and glue.; and for each club member, a small plastic container or cup, a balloon, and a coffee stirrer. Cut a piece of the balloon and stretch it over the top of each small plastic container. Tape down the sides so the balloon cover is tight and does not leak air. Put a drop of glue in the middle of the balloon and glue down one end of the coffee stirrer so that the other end sticks out past the edge of the container.  Place all small containers in the large container, put on the cover, and press down.  You should be able to see the free end of the coffee sticks point upward.  Why?  You have increased pressure in the small container, which pushes down on the balloon covering. This video can get you started.

2. Weather Vane

Create a weather vane that turns to point INTO the wind. Needed supplies: For each member: pencil with eraser, push pin with long pin, straw, index cards or card stock, e.g. from file folders. For the group: clay, tape, scissors, and fan (or wind). To Do:  Stick the pointed end of the pencil in a clay base. Push the pin through some part of the straw (figure out where!) and pin it on top of the pencil eraser.  Cut out a shape from the card, decorate it if you wish, and tape it to the straw.  Be creative. Can you cut out a rooster or horse? Turn on the fan. Similar to this:  HYPERLINK “http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xHKM_exlEto” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xHKM_exlEto

3. Convection Current

Convection current:  Needed supplies: A Beta fish tank with divider, colored gravel, sand, red and blue food coloring, source of hot and cold water.  TO DO: Put the divider into the tank. Construct a coastline by putting a sloping beach of sand and gravel on one side of the tank. Add cold water to one side and warm water on the other.  Add red dye to the hot water and blue dye to the cold water.  Remove the divider, and you should see a current develop with the colored water moving.  This is similar to weather along the coastline.

4. Lightning Storm

Visit a Science Museum with a Van De Graff generator and watch a demonstration of lighting sparks.

5. Predicting Shadows

Search for a “sun position calculator “ such as Suncalc.net.  Enter your location, date, and time and find where the sun position is.  Look out of a window to see if it makes sense.  Try other dates and notice how the sun position and shadows change with the seasons.


Discussion guide for SOMETHING STINKS!

by Gail Hedrick 

Why does Emily care so much about the dead fish on the Higdon River? Would you care?

What are Emily’s original hypotheses about why the fish are dying? (Her ideas about how to explain it?) What does the inspector from the state think?

How is Emily’s friendship with LeAnn changing?  What do you think is going on?

Describe the characters of the girls: Leann, Emily, Mary, and Cynthia Craver?  Who would you like to have as a friend and why?

What steps does Emily take to find out what is polluting the river?  What does she look for at the golf course, the lumber factory, and the clothing factory?

Describe Sam.  How does he change during the book, or is it only Emily’s idea of him that changes?

Emily and her friends take water samples from the river.  What are they testing for?  What can they learn from water temperature and pH?  What is dissolved oxygen?

What is the time pattern of when the fish die?  Why is this an important clue?

To continue her investigation, Emily breaks a lot of rules.  Do you think she is doing the right thing?  Can you think of a situation where breaking the rules might be the right thing to do?

What do Emily and her friends finally discover?  What is causing the fish to die, and why is it important?

What happens to solve the problem in the end?

Have you heard or read about any pollution in your community?  How would you find out what is causing it?


Suggested activities for SOMETHING STINKS!

1. Your Watershed

Search online for the water shed in your area.  You can go to here also –  “http://cfpub.epa.gov/surf/locate/index.cfm” 

Find more information about the area and the water quality.

2. Filtered water test

Search online for a TDS (total dissolved solids) meter.  Have club members bring their tap water and filtered water in two separate clean bottles.  Test for TDS in the tap and filtered water to see how well the filters work.  Try to make your own filter using coffee filters and aquarium charcoal. Video:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ak4SPKbOHc

3. Drinking Fountain Water Test

Search online or find a local home supply store for a water test kit. The kit may include pH, alkalinity, nitrate, chlorine, iron, copper and other contaminants.   Choose a common source of water that your club drinks from – a park fountain, school fountain, or one of the club members garden water.  Test the water quality per instructions in the kit.

4.  Fishy Smell

Are you curious about how fishy all those dead fish might smell?  Search online for dried fish or visit a local store that may carry it.  Dried fish is used in several countries for flavoring wonderful dishes.  Hand out some of the dried fish and smell them.  Rehydrate the fish and see how the smell and texture changes.

5. Water Supply Fieldtrip

Have an adult help find your local water supplier and see if they offer field trips, activities, or visits to your school. Learn about how water is filtered and delivered in your area.



by Roberta Baxter and Barnas Monteith

Discuss various terms and what they mean:  hacking, computer viruses, Trojan horses, etc.

There are a lot of hackers in this book. What are some of the different motives different characters, such as Captain Crunch, the 414’s, Shadowcrew, or Limor Fried?

What was Aaron Swartz trying to do by hacking into the computer system at MIT? Do you think the government was right in wanting to prosecute him?

Why is Dr. G trying to hack into computers?

What reasons beyond those shown in this book can you think of for wanting to hack into computers?  Do you think any of the reasons are good ones?  Honest ones?

Can you think of any recent episodes of hacking in your school, your community, or the news?  If so, discuss.

What are some good ways to protect your computer from hackers?

Why did Dr. G’s minions send Anita and Benson to London in 1633? What happens there?

What role does Quarkum play in this book?  If you have read other books with Quarkum Phonon, how is his role different here?  How does his relationship with Benson and Anita change?

Do you think computer hacking can be controlled?  If not, what are some possible consequences?



1. Netlogo Program

Robert Tinker’s appendix includes a computer program that you can run and then “hack.” You can also find this program at …  Experiment with the program to make some interesting patterns.  Here’s more info on these activities.

2. Password Game

Guessing passwords, to be played by two or more people.

i. Each player thinks of a simple three-character password consisting of letters and/or numerals from 0 to 9. All three characters should be different.  Write your password on a piece of paper or index card.

ii. Take turns guessing each other’s password. Guess three characters of an opponent’s password. After each guess, your opponent must tell you how many characters, if any, you guessed correctly.

iii. To win, you must guess the correct three characters; they don’t have to be in the correct order.

3. Password Strength Meter

Search online for “password checker” and select one site.  Hand out an index card to each club member and have him or her write down his or her name on one side.  On the other side have them write down a password that is at least 6 characters long – a character can be a letter (upper and lower case are different characters), number, or symbol – and they can memorize.  Hand the index card to another member who will then test the strength on the website.  If it is a strong password, also check to see if the original person who created the password can recite it.  Discuss what makes a strong password that you can remember.

4. Easter Egg Hacks

Programmers sometime put pieces of code into software that do additional things when the user triggers the right inputs.  They are called Easter Eggs because they are fun surprises that are found by looking around.  Try searching for Easter Eggs of your favorite software games and websites to share with your club.  Here is a neat one for Google – search for “do a barrel roll”

5. Making and breaking codes.

Try doing one of the activities for THE CRYPTIC CASE OF THE CODED FAIR.  The website for some of these activities can be found here.