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Making Keys with MaKey MaKey

This summer seemed to fly by at Fab Lab Houston. Between our summer camp visits, Fab Lab Ambassadors program, watching construction wrap up around the center, and getting in all our new equipment, I can’t believe summer is almost over.

For Fab Lab Houston’s last visit of the summer to the BakerRipley summer camps we took MaKey MaKey kits to explore conductivity.  I always love pulling out the Makey Makey kits with a new group of students to see what they will come up with.

For those of you unfamiliar with MaKey MaKey, they are simple electronic toys that use a circuit board, alligator clips, and a USB cable to send closed loop electrical signals to the computer. These signals register as either a keyboard stroke or mouse click, telling the computer what to do next. This allows students to turn anything that conducts electricity into a controller.

Our locations had a lot of fun exploring the conductivity possibilities that the MaKey MaKey kits can bring to making music, simple programming, and playing games. Because this summer has been about teaching these kids as well as experimentation for me to find activities that we will be implementing in the Fab Lab long term, I tried something different at each center.

The first group used aluminum foil as their conductive matter. This resulted in a fun, fairly easy to set up activity with little cleanup.  Using the foil in the alligator clips left little room for error or questionable connectivity. The students had fun putting the foil into different shapes as well. One of the frustrations that we frequently ran into was that the foil offered little resistance on the slick tables, and they were constantly sliding off the workspace.  Once the students saw what the problem was, there was an easy fix with a small piece of tape or forming the foil into different shapes that might not slide as easily across the smooth services. Once that was figured out, they had a blast playing on exploring games that they could play using the MaKey MaKey kits.

At the second location I was feeling a little more adventurous and brought out the play-doh.  Play-doh is a conductive material due to the moisture content. Each student got a container to break down into whatever 5 shapes they wanted to connect the alligator clips into. The play-doh made the kind of mess that you would expect from giving 20 students play-doh.  There was some on the floor, some on the tables, and stuck in the alligator clips. As much fun as the students were having with Makey Makey, the allure of playing with play-doh got to them and that ended up being their focus by the end of the session.

By the time I got to our third and final location I had a large variety of items for the students to experiment with: forks, spoons, marshmallows, gummy worms, and lead pencils with paper. The students had fun mixing and matching different materials for different keystrokes. As they used to their own creations they started playing on other’s kits.  It was fun hearing various directions being given around the room. My favorite was “You have to jump, push the marshmallow!”  I did learn that making keys with marshmallows, while fun, leaves a sticky mess on the alligator clips, wires, tables, kids, etc… So we will not be using them again.

Next time the Makey Makey kits come out we have a variety of new items for the children to explore with, including items that they can cover with foil for fun shaped controls.


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