Our school recently held its annual Maker Jam Slam, a celebration of STEAM with other schools from across Hong Kong. This was my latest experience of seeing cool products used in creative ways by other teachers and students and, once again, feeling like I was missing out. Worse than that, I felt that my students were missing out. I consider myself fairly tech-savvy regarding software, but these kinds of STEAM, tinkering, electrical products are another level.
With the Christmas holidays coming up, I invested in some kits of my own and, with the help of YouTube and my PLN, enjoyed some self-learning over the break. One of these products was Makey Makey, a product that I have since been able to use in class.
This is just me playing with some basic code, but I now know how to combine the awesomeness of @makeymakey and @scratch. The possibilities are endless! Watch this space… #EdTech #STEAM pic.twitter.com/DbHrjMKPlc
— Adam Hill (@AdamHillEDU) December 29, 2018
What is Makey Makey?
Makey Makey is an invention kit that allows users to create touchpads using everyday objects. Combined with the internet, it offers powerful opportunities for learning, creating and inventing. Its brilliance lies in its simplicity and versatility.
The Makey Makey plugs into a computer using a USB cable. It works by opening and closing circuits using conductive materials. Closing the circuit sends keyboard and mouse commands to the computer. It works with any objects that are even slightly conductive. To list just a few: most fruits, most vegetables, graphite, Play-Doh, water, plants… and humans. Yes, with Makey Makey, the user completes the circuit! In fact, Makey Makey works through multiple people. Using a human chain to close the circuit is great fun!
In the photo above (ignore the penguin pyjamas), you can see how I have completed the circuit by touching the ‘Earth’ wire with my left hand and the kettle with my right hand. The kettle is attached to the Makey Makey via the yellow wire, signalling the computer to play the online piano. Here is a simpler image to show what’s going on:
My class has been learning about electricity through our How The World Works energy unit. This provided an authentic opportunity for Makey Makey integration. Furthermore, the students are currently planning their next iTime (Genius Hour) projects, so I thought that Makey Makey might inspire some ideas.
My students walked into the classroom after lunch recess to see me playing a banana piano. Needless to say, I had their attention. To add to their curiosity, the banana piano didn’t work for anyone else because they weren’t aware of the ‘Earth’ wire that I was holding out of sight. To completely blow their minds, I offered one student my support by holding their hand while they tried a second time. This completed the circuit and the piano suddenly came to life! I had the magic touch!
In a memorable way, this taught them the first lesson about circuits: they must be closed (a lesson that they were repeatedly reminded of throughout the next sections).
Experimenting with conductors
With a Makey Makey app on screen (the piano or bongos, in most cases), the students experimented with a pre-prepared box of objects. They connected these objects to the Makey Makey to see which ones would work. Along the way, they made discoveries and generalisations about conductors. Perhaps the biggest “wow” moment was when they realised that they could simply draw their own touchpads due to the conductivity of the graphite in their pencils!
Game controller application
I wanted a fun way for them to apply their new understanding. I challenged them to design and make a game controller that would be usable with online games and comfortable to hold. With iTime in mind (especially the coding projects), I wanted to show the students a glimpse of what’s possible. This challenge would work with any online game that uses simple keyboard commands, but the school network blocked some of the more popular ones so we stuck with the Scratch version of Tetris (available from the Makey Makey apps list). With limited time, the groups were able to create simple controllers that were usable. They enjoyed creating their controllers almost as much as they enjoyed using them! Click on AX’s tweet below to see one in action.
We used @makeymakey to see what materials are conductors and then made game controllers. My group used coins and foil because they conduct and look good. I’m surprised that graphite also conducts electricity and that the controller actually worked! – AX #HowTheWorldWorks #VSAHKG pic.twitter.com/MiVYzOVLEl
— VSA Year 4 (@vsahkg_Y4) January 8, 2019
This was one of my most memorable teaching afternoons so far this year. Based on their engagement and excitement, I’m confident that it had a similar impact on my students. It was a reminder of the endless possibilities of STEAM and technology integration, and why self-learning is such an important part of our professional development. This small investment of time over the holidays has already paid off a thousand times over… and I have barely scratched the surface of what’s possible with Makey Makey! I encourage you to explore their website for support, resources, ideas and inspiration. As with most technology tools, it’s a lot easier than it looks! It’s also worth noting that the new Scratch 3.0 includes a Makey Makey extension. I look forward to exploring this.
Look out for more STEAM posts as I integrate some of my other new toys. Next up: micro:bit. Stay tuned!
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