MAKEY MAKEY and SCRATCH: Bringing STEM to the science classroom

What is a Makey Makey?

The Makey Makey is a piece of hardware that allows you to develop alternative ways of activating certain keys on your keyboard.  In other words, instead of simply pressing the space bar on your keyboard, you could instead touch a banana that is connected to the Makey Makey to trigger the same function.  Now if that particular example serves little educational purpose for your students, bear with me there is so much more…

Simple to set up and go!  In this example students connected a light resistor to the Makey Makey.

So what is actually happening here?  Every key on your keyboard (and mouse) is basically a push button switch that triggers its assigned function every time it is turned “ON” or pressed.  Pressing “A” on your keyboard is basically turning “ON” the circuit that results in an “A” to appear on your screen.  The Makey Makey essentially allows the user to turn “ON” the letter “A” using another switch besides the “A” key on the keyboard.

The Makey Makey does not require the installation of supporting software or drivers.  It just needs a connection to a USB port of your Windows PC, Mac or Chromebook.  No additional power cords are necessary because the USB connection also provides the power for the Makey Makey.

The Power of Web Applications

Being able to trigger the pressing of an “A” key or space bar using some other type of circuit or switch may not sound like much but when you couple this ability to other web applications, students can generate some interesting projects.  Students can design their own interface for various web applications such as online simulators (virtual keyboards, drum machines), video games or any web-based application that uses a keyboard (or mouse) to trigger an action or function.  The Makey Makey website offers some links to some useful web applications.

Where is the science in this?

Understanding how the Makey Makey works and creating new and unique ways to turn “ON” and trigger keys is a powerful way to explore electricity, electrical circuits and properties of matter.  In constructing their own game controllers or electric pianos students will need to understand, “What makes up electricity?  What do you need to create a circuit?  What materials can conduct electricity?”  All of these questions naturally arise when attempting to use the Makey Makey.

Where is STEM?  What is SCRATCH?

While the Makey Makey allows for the design and construction of various circuits and switches it is the integration of SCRATCH coding that brings in elements of math and logic while adding a new level of technological design.  SCRATCH is an online application developed by MIT Media Lab that allows users to code through the drag-and-drop of functional blocks.  This is a powerful addition to the Makey Makey as students can now create their own applications and assign new functions to various keys and mouse clicks.  Students can program their own games or applications.  SCRATCH even provides access to a computer’s web cam or microphone.

Students created a simple code with SCRATCH to sound an alarm when the door was opened. They built a circuit that would complete (turn ON) when the door opened.

Final thoughts

Students decided to develop a game controlled that involved the user to drink from different cups of water in order to navigate the game. Stay hydrated my friends…

Makey Makey and SCRATCH offer the opportunity for students and teachers to design and build projects while uncovering curriculum and content along the way.  Taking a design thinking approach with these tools would have students identify real world problems or needs and then design and build working solutions.  I have used these products in my classroom and I have marvelled at the ideas and creations that my students have generated.  Ultimately the conversations and discussion that these types of projects generate provide rich opportunities to assess student understanding and their ability to apply concepts.  It encourages problem solving and values failure, trial and error and persistence as part of the process towards success.

  • K. Takahashi

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