National Cryptologic Museum
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Tours & Education Programs
Table of Contents
Scheduled tours are normally for 6–15 people. Tours are ideal for retiree groups, college classes, or those adults looking for something a little different. Museum staff or volunteer docents lead groups on guided tours of the museum. Tours cover cryptologic history and the role that making and breaking codes has had in American/world history. You'll hear how messages were sent during the Civil War, how the U.S. entered WWI due to a decoded German message, operate a real working German Enigma from WWII, see the machine that decrypted the Japanese "Dec. 7, 1941," message, learn about the Native American Code Talkers, see some of the earliest supercomputers and secure telephones, and much more. Special emphasis can be placed on any of these areas upon request.
Groups should schedule in advance (301-688-5849) , but walk-ins are welcome if a docent is available. The minimal number for scheduled tours is six people.
Tours last approximately 1.5 hours. (Shorter or longer tours can be accommodated upon request).
School Field Trips (Suspended until Reopening)
A field trip to the National Cryptologic Museum is a fun and interesting way to introduce students to the secret world of codes and ciphers. Age appropriate, interactive programs are designed to engage the students and to make them aware of cryptology's role in world history and how mathematics plays a role in cryptology. The programs are excellent for math, social studies, and scout field trips.
Hours: The museum is open to the public Monday through Friday 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. Field trips may be scheduled to begin anytime between 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. Most field trips are scheduled for the morning hours so book early to reserve the desired date and time.
Admission & Parking
A minimum of one chaperone for every 10 students is required. Additional chaperones are welcomed and encouraged.
Gift Shop (Closed until Museum Reopens)
The museum shop is open Monday through Friday 10 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. If you would like students to have an opportunity to visit the store, please schedule additional time in your trip. Students are only permitted in the gift shop with the teacher's approval and when accompanied by an adult. Because the store is small, only six students and a chaperone are permitted in the store at one time. The store carries a variety of items emblazoned with the National Security Agency emblem. Items range from pencils to clothing and books.
No public transportation is available to the museum. Ample parking is available for cars and buses. Click here for map and directions.
School Field Trip Programs (Suspended until Reopening)
Picture Scavenger Hunt
Recommended for ages 9–11 (grades 4–6). Older elementary school students participate in a Scavenger Hunt. Each student receives a questionnaire with pictures of museum exhibits. The students must search the museum for the exhibit and answer the two accompanying questions. Students may work in small groups, but each is given the questionnaire to answer. The hunt is followed by an answer session in the museum classroom. The museum staff will review the questionnaires and provide additional historical information concerning each exhibit. Staff frequently asks "bonus questions" and rewards correct answers with small prizes.
Program Length: approximately 2 hours
Class Size: 6–60
Recommended for ages 12 and older (grades 7–12). Middle school and high school students participate in a Questionnaire Scavenger Hunt. Each student receives a questionnaire concerning the museum exhibits. The students search the museum for answers. Students may work in small groups but each is given the questionnaire to answer. The hunt is followed by an answer session in the museum classroom. The museum staff will go over the questionnaires and provide additional historical information concerning the exhibits. Staff frequently asks additional "bonus questions" and reward correct answers with small prizes.
Recommended for ages 15 and older (grades 10–college). Young adults receive a guided tour of the museum given by museum staff or volunteer docents. The tour covers cryptologic history and its role in American/world history. Exhibits include: Civil War, WWI, WWII (including the German Enigma, Pacific War and Native American Code Talkers), Cold War, Korean War, Vietnam War, development of computers and American Information Assurance programs. Special emphasis can be placed on any of these areas upon request.
Program Length: 1–2 hours (teacher's discretion)
Class size: 6–40: (30 or fewer is recommended)
Home Schools and Small Groups
Designed specifically for home schoolers ages 9–16, but available to other small groups as well, this program has students search the museum looking for specific exhibits. They then answer four questions regarding each artifact, person, or event. In the museum classroom, students, or teams of students, will answer the questions in a game show format by buzzing in. The staff will provide additional historical information during a guided tour of the museum.
Program length: Approximately 3 hours
Class size: 6–15
Add-On Programs (Now Virtual)
Several talks and presentations can be provided to groups in addition to a field trip program or tour. Please allow an additional hour to your visit. Programs will be presented in the museum classroom before or after the field trip in the museum.
In conjunction with K–12 programs, talks on a wide variety of math related topics can be presented. A full list of talks can be found in the K–12 Speakers Bureau Catalog. Please select two or three choices so that we can best try to meet your request.
Several virtual talks on cryptologic history are also available from the museum Educational Coordinator.
- Battle of Codes — a look at cryptology in WWII and the role it played in the Allies’ victory (middle school through adult) (NEW!)
- American Secrets — a brief history of cryptology in the United States from the Revolution through the 20th century (high school through adult) (NEW!)
- Solving the Enigma — history of the German cipher machine, Enigma, and how it was solved by the Allies (high school through adult)
- Midway — how cryptology helped achieve victory at the Battle of Midway and turn the tide of war in the Pacific in World War II (high school through adult) (Suspended)
- Signaling the Civil War — cryptology and communications in the American Civil War (middle school through adult)
- Revolutionary Secrets — cryptologic techniques and their role in the American Revolution (separate talks for elementary students through adults)
- Secrets: Making and Breaking — introduction to cryptologic techniques with examples from the 18th - 20th centuries (middle through high school)
- Secrets Revealed — interactive introduction to cryptanalysis (middle through high school)
- Talking in Code — history of the Native American Code Talkers, including a fun game (separate talks for elementary students through adults)
- Creating the Legacy — the role of women in American cryptologic history (high school through adult)
- Sharing the Burden — the role of women in cryptology specifically during World War II (high school through adult)
Other Virtual Programs (Call or email to schedule)
The below presentations meet Maryland State Department of Education Social Studies Standards for grades 4–8.
- 4th Grade — Revolutionary Secrets is an interactive program that teaches students different ways messages were sent during the American Revolution and how they were disguised to keep them secret. The presentation covers Paul Revere’s lantern code, Benedict Arnold’s coded message to sell West Point, invisible ink used by Washington’s spies, and ciphers used by America’s diplomats. The worksheet accompanying the presentation lets the students try each of the different methods of secret communication.
- 5th Grade — Secrets in the Civil War is an interactive program that teaches students how cryptology was used in the Civil War by abolitionists and others. The program covers the quilt codes thought to have been used by the Underground Railroad, the cipher system of abolitionist Elizabeth Van Lew and her espionage network of former enslaved people, and the flag signaling system used by both armies and the role it played in the attack involving the 54th Massachusetts (all-black) Volunteer Regiment. The worksheet accompanying the presentation lets the students try their hand at the ciphers explained in the program.
- 6th Grade — Writing Made Secret is an interactive program that introduces students to the development ancient writing and how that writing evolved into encryption for secrecy. The presentation introduces the history of ancient writing, including Chinese, Cuneiforms, and hieroglyphics before looking at the need for encrypting written communications by the Greeks, Romans, and scholars of the Renaissance, followed by Middle Eastern scholars developing the first science of cryptanalysis in the 9th century. The worksheet accompanying the presentation allows students to try some of the cipher systems demonstrated and provides an opportunity to solve an unknown message.
- 7th Grade — Cold War: Tension and Response presents a look at various events in during the Cold War from the perspective of Signals Intelligence and the National Security Agency. Topics discussed include the Venona Project which worked to break KGB coded messages throughout the Cold War and provided information on traitors such as the Rosenbergs, the loss of aerial reconnaissance aircraft including Gary Powers’s U-2 spy mission over the Soviet Union and how that led to satellite reconnaissance, the role of Signals Intelligence during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and NSA’s role verifying compliance with the nuclear arms treaties between the Americans and the Soviets/Russians. An accompanying worksheet can be used for review.
- 8th Grade (1) — Revolutionary Secrets is an interactive program that teaches students different cryptologic methods used to protect communications during the American Revolution and how cryptanalysis of British messages aided Washington at Yorktown. Topics include the lantern code of Paul Revere which assisted in the victory at Concord beginning the war, the cryptographic methods used by American diplomats in Europe seeking French assistance, the codes used by American spies aiding the safe arrival of the French fleet in Newport, and finally the breaking of British cipher messages providing Washington with knowledge of Cornwallis’s situation at Yorktown leading to the end of the war. The accompanying worksheet provides the students the opportunity to make and break messages based on the cryptologic methods described.
- 8th Grade (2) — Signaling the Civil War is an interactive presentation introducing students to communication technologies used during the Civil War and the efforts made through cryptology to protect those communication from interception by the enemy. Topics presented include Morse Code and the use of the telegraph and how codes and ciphers protected the messages and visual signaling on the battlefield through the use of flags and how they played a role in the success or failure during specific battles. The accompanying worksheet provides students the opportunity to make and break messages based on the cryptologic methods described.
Scout Programs (Suspended until Reopening)
Cub Scouts can earn electives at the National Cryptologic Museum in fun and interactive programs. The Tiger, Wolf, and Bear programs include an abbreviated tour of the museum. The Cubs will play a Navajo Code Talkers game and use both a simple cipher wheel and the Enigma to create a cipher message.
TIGERS can earn:
- "Curiosity, Intrigue, and Magic" electives #4 Create a secret code, #5 Crack a code, and #7 Science demo of how magic works (using invisible ink).
- "Stories in Shapes" elective #2B Use tangrams to create shapes
- (optional) "Tiger Theater" elective #5 Attend story time
WOLVES can complete "Code of the Wolf" and earn the entire elective.
BEARS can earn:
- "Forensics" #2 Analyze your fingerprints
- "Roaring with Laughter" #3 Short story with fill-in-the-blanks
- "Robotics" #2 Research robot work
(There are no requirements for Webelos that involve codes, but we will be happy to provide an age-appropriate program that includes a tour and hands-on ciphering.)
Program Length: approximately 1.5 hours
Group size: 6–12 Cubs of the same rank
NOVA Math Award "1-2-3 Go!"
Museum activities will complete #4 Secret Codes. Due to the advanced concepts involved, this program is recommended for Webelos only. Much of this badge requirement is taught in a classroom setting and the boys should be prepared to complete paperwork activities.
Program Length: 1–1.5 hours
Group size: 6–12
Boy Scouts of America
Programs are generally tours focused on areas specified by the leader, or they may select any of the other programs offered. A guided tour counts as 1.5 hours of research toward the "Designed to Crunch" NOVA award.
Scouts also can earn their Requirement #10 (Cryptography) of their Signs, Signals, & Codes merit badge.
The Brownie, Junior, and Cadette programs were developed to meet the requirements for badges in the "It's Your Planet - Love it!" Journey and "Cyber Security."
Brownie Girl Scouts earn their Cyber Security - Investigator badge by going on a short treasure hunt around the museum to gather clues and puzzles. As a group, they solve cipher puzzle pieces, trade computer viruses, and play an active "cyber attack" ball game.
Junior Girl Scouts earn their "Detective" badge using clues to find different exhibits, test their powers of observation, try different ways to encrypt a message, and identify their own fingerprint patterns and handwriting. The program also includes an abbreviated tour of the museum with some hands-on activities and games interspersed, making earning their badge and learning about cryptology fun.
Cadette Girl Scouts earn their "Special Agent" badge. This program includes an abbreviated tour of the museum that not only exposes the girls to the fun of ciphers, it emphasizes the role women have played in cryptologic history. While on the tour, the girls will have several hands-on activities and games like testing their powers of observation. Then they'll go into the classroom to write with invisible ink, identify their own fingerprint patterns, play a body language game, and sketch their favorite activity.
Program Length: Approximately 2 hours
Group Size: 6–12 girls of the same rank
(Note the badges must be purchased from the Girl Scout store and are not available at the museum.)
How To Schedule
Field trips can be scheduled by calling 301-688-5849 Monday through Friday 8 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Have the following information ready before you call:
- Date and time of the visit
- Program choice
- Group size and age/grade (or scout rank)
- Point of contact/Teacher's name
- Phone number
- Additional program if desired
- Gift Shop?
- Special requirements (sign language interpreters can be provided with advance notice: one wheel chair is available upon request)