This week, I was challenged to learn how to use a Makey Makey, and then to creatively remix it with items from a thrift store (and my house) to create a prototype of something I could use with my students.
After watching some sample videos of what others had done with a Makey Makey, I was both impressed with how versatile this tool is and amazed at the creative things people came up with. (Who would ever think to make musical chairs or a life-size race game, let alone a pee counter?) Then I started to get intimidated: How could I top this crazy greatness? And how was I ever going to come up with a meaningful way to use this in my classroom, since most of the videos I saw were about music and/or done by elementary-age students? I mean, I could make some sort of review game where they answer by touching the object instead of pressing a button on the computer, but I don’t really like to use technology just because it’s “neat” or “engaging” — If I’m going to go through the work of figuring this out and making something new, I want it to meaningfully redefine what my students can do or produce.
I talked myself off the ledge and decided I should probably go back and do the readings for class this week. Fortunately Dr. Punya Mishra directly addressed my concerns about creativity in his article “Rethinking Technology & Creativity in the 21st Century: Crayons are the Future“. While I’m not very artistically creative (as you will see in my video for this week!), I do enjoy creatively solving problems in areas like science and teaching in which I have a lot more skill and training. And I’d like to help my students to become creative, divergent thinkers, but I don’t give them a lot of opportunities to do that. I often give them labs that are neatly packaged, and even if they’re guided inquiry labs, I have set the conditions so that the students will generally be successful on their first or second attempt, no matter what procedure they decide to follow. But just this week, when we had a lab fail in AP Chemistry class, we got to talk about how scientists don’t work this way: in fact, they fail and tweak and creatively problem-solve way more often than they get affirmation that their results were what they expected.
So with that in mind, I decided to apply my scientific skills to figuring out the Makey Makey kit. I opened it up and started connecting wires to random things to figure out what would and would not conduct.
My desk was a crazy mess of chaos, but I had a lot of fun finding random things in my house that might work, including this cow creamer holder that I bought at a thrift shop a few months ago. It works with the Makey Makey if I put aluminum foil inside of it. I was surprised at some things that didn’t naturally conduct, like a magnetic tree-shaped stand (which you will see as a prop in my final video).
In the back of my mind, I still wasn’t sure how this had any practical use for my classroom, but I decided to pursue what I was most inspired by, which was the cow creamer holder and a music book of kids’ songs that only use 6 notes (which works perfectly with the Makey Makey, because there are 6 inputs on the basic side of the board) . I thought it’d be funny to play a song that involved a cow, and maybe figure out how to make him moo.
I found a good Creative Commons Moo sound at FreeSound, a Scratch program that was set up to make the Makey Makey into a keyboard, and the music for “Old McDonald Had a Farm” in the book of kids’ songs. I figured out that I didn’t need the “E” note to play my song, so I played around with the Scratch program and made that key into the “Moo” sound effect. I had some trouble with the click function not responding fast enough, so I also reprogrammed the “A” note to be triggered by the “w” key found on the back of the Makey Makey. My Old McDonald Scratch Keyboard was ready to go!
Then I set up my scene:
I connected the cords as shown in this diagram:
Finally, I plugged the Makey Makey into the USB drive of my laptop, and recorded this amazing rendition of Old McDonald:
As I thought about my process of playing, I realized that I have a very natural opening in my curriculum for something like this! Not only is this kind of divergent and creative play a part of the NGSS standards and something I’d like to incorporate more into my classes, but the Makey Makey is driven by electrical conductivity, which can be explained by the flow of electrons and the type of chemical bonding present, a topic I cover in both Honors Chemistry and AP Chemistry.
I decided to make a lesson plan that would provide a more guided and scaffolded version of the task I was given this week. My lesson plan elaborates on how I plan to demonstrate the Makey Makey to students, give them time to explore, and then challenge them to create a video that utilizes 3 different conductive substances, a Scratch keyboard program, and the Makey Makey to play a song. They will then write a short paper explaining their process of creation and the scientific principles that allow the Makey Makey to work with their objects.
I believe that the photos and videos I created will help my students (and you, the readers of this blog) as they begin their own creations. Examples of what is possible and how to do it were essential inspirations and explanations for me, and my example will hopefully be a springboard to them as well. If you are inspired by what I’ve done here, please let me know!
Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama. Moo.wav. November 30th, 2009. https://www.freesound.org/people/cmusounddesign/sounds/84697/. 2 November 2014.
Ericr. MaKey MaKey Piano-2. 17 May, 2012. http://scratch.mit.edu/projects/2543877/. 2 November 2014.
Mishra, P., & The Deep-Play Research Group (2012). Rethinking Technology & Creativity in the 21st Century: Crayons are the Future. TechTrends, 56(5), 13-16.