Lockpicking in Computer Science


I picked up a new hobby at Defcon this year. It turns out that there is a lot of crossover between the lockpicking and hacker communities. It looked so fun I thought I had to give it a try. And when I began talking about security in my computer science class, I picked a lock as an illustration of a point I was making. I’m not sure if the point was received or not, but the kids were VERY interested in the lockpicking! So of course that became a carrot. If we could get through the material in hoped to get through, I would show them how it’s done. A couple weeks later, I found the time to try it during a study session. The kids went nuts for it! Well over half the class managed to pick a simple padlock over the next couple of days, and some of them have stuck with it. I’ve had at least three pick standard home-use five-pin tumblers (inspiring me to up my own game!), and I’ve heard from a couple that they have ordered their own picks and practice locks already.

I’m not aware of lockpicking being on the curriculum at any school. And I’d be hard pressed to justify adding it. But I’m a strong believer that if the kids are passionate enough about something to spend their own time learning it, then it is well worth the time to support that.

It’s really difficult to tell what will excite a particular child, and sometimes the most unexpected things will become fads. When my own son attended this school, a teacher introduced him to the Rubix cube. It became his obsession for a couple years. He spent countless hours researching and practicing, and finally achieved a time of around 20 seconds. All of this was completely on his own. This knowledge will probably not get him ahead in life, but his ability to learn on his own and become passionate about it certainly will.

So while I’m really excited about teaching the kids as much computer science as I can manage to pack in, and while I’m convinced that they can’t get enough of reading, writing, and math, I’m really glad that I could spend a few hours on something that might be completely impractical and not on any standards. Because sometimes, that’s where the important learning happens!


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