When I inherited my Cyber Patriot team seven years ago, no one in the school paid any attention to it. It was just a quaint competition that six girls got into once a month for a few months a year; there was no funding or support. It was just a case of “get on with it and have some fun.” Fast forward to the present day. The team has five state titles, finished in the top six in Girls Go Cyber Start, regularly participates in the National Cyber League (NCL), and suddenly we are a regular in the school newsletter and local papers.
Now, I was very lucky in that my school is independent and my principal at the time was a visionary. She wanted anything that set the school apart from others in the area and saw the field of cyber security as something we could tap into.
This might get a little “education speak,” but as a teacher I am a competency-based educator—I believe the best way to learn a concept is to find a way to interact with it in a practical manner, and, in this case, the NCL does wonders in my classroom.
Want to teach the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) three-way handshake? Try a Wireshark problem in the Gym. Want to teach number bases? Hit the Gym again for some cryptography problems. If anything, this should show your admin the benefits of NCL in the classroom. Next time you have a lesson observation, pick an NCL-like problem and work through it, showing your observers how your students can apply knowledge gained while playing in the NCL to a unique problem.
Use group work to your benefit. All educators espouse the benefits of team play, group projects, and peer learning, and you get that in spades with the NCL Team Game. Leverage more problem-based learning in a group setting, get yourself a couple of teams, and watch the competitive streak come out. The goal will obviously be to score as many points as quickly as possible, but what is actually happening is that your team members will be learning new skills via research or from each other at a massively accelerated rate.
Specialties? I have found that being exposed to the categories in the NCL has allowed my seniors to pick college majors based around that, and, in fact, it’s even allowed juniors to decide their specialized independent studies for their senior year. So far, we’ve had digital forensics and network security majors, and the NCL has helped shape these decisions.
Does your school claim to be a college prep school? What could be more college prep than competing against college students? Yes, this has to be tempered with the fact that your students probably aren’t going to win the competition, although that is not beyond the bounds of imagination. The experience of competing in successive seasons will continue to allow your students to grow in experience and gain new skills. Show your administration the Scouting Reports to show how your students are learning on the fly and improving through the seasons.
Lastly, the elephant in the room: money. Yes, there are free competitions out there. PicoCTF is one of the major ones, and the NCL does cost money, but then so does Cyber Patriot. If your school is not prepared to—or, for some reason, can’t—fund it (remembering Title II funding is available), then maybe reach out to some local businesses for sponsorship. At $35 a head, getting a few students sponsored for a little bit of advertising goes a long, long way.
To wrap up, here’s a quote from one of the administrators from my school:
“It is very important that we prepare our students for the world in which they live. With so much of their life—from social media apps to college applications, from standardized testing to banking—being done on-line, we need to ensure that we are teaching our students to understand the threats that exist and, hopefully, training some who will go on to protect us all from these threats. Our students who participate in the Cybersecurity offerings—both academic classes and competition activities—at our school are well prepared to pursue further training in this area. They have experienced a bit of the challenge first-hand and are energized at the possibilities. In a field where few of their parents may have experience, it is the responsibility of the school to make students aware of the opportunities that exist in this field.”