Digital Playground: MaKey MaKey

In a recent digital playground, we decided to get our hands on a MaKey MaKey and see what we could do with it. What’s a MaKey MaKey? I was convinced to buy one ($50) when I read the following description by Meredith at MOUSE:

For everyone who has ever wanted to use a banana as a spacebar (I know you’ve all thought about it) or buckets of water as a game controller – MaKey MaKey has the invention kit just for you. Turn the random stuff around your school into touchpads that can play with the Internet using the MaKey MaKey board and some alligator clips.

Um, what? I knew there was no way I was going to understand what it was, let alone how we could use it for informal science and cultural learning, unless we played around with it.

So essentially you get that green board with the orange on it that plugs into your computer. It makes your computer *think* what you plugged in was a keyboard. Then you use all those other wires to connect 1) the board with 2) anything that conducts electricity. Closing the circuit sends electricity (generated from the computer) in a loop that actives whichever part of the keyboard you are simulating.

Is it your turn to say, “Um, what?” If so, check out the videos below.

So what did you just watch? Nathan is at the computer, which has a song all ready in iTunes and the cursor positioned over the play button. The MaKey MaKey has one wire going to the metal Ganesha and another to the bell. When Monique picks up the Ganesha, then clicks on the bell, she closes the circuit, which signals the MaKey MaKey to send a “click” signal to the computer. Which plays the song. And when Monique rings the bell again, a second signal is sent, turning the song off.

Monique (and Ariam across from here) were not impress. Yet. Watch this:

Okay, so NOW everyone is excited. What changed? In the first example, a bell was included to initiate the click. In the second, a plant was used instead. Switching from something obviously metal to something organic felt magical, as if computing were flora – or something like that. Something unexpected and delightful.

Then Nathan figured out how to make the dollar bill work as well:

A week later, we had a birthday cake for our department head, Preeti. At the weekly meeting, we all held hands, all 20+ of us, and when she (going last) held the hands of the people around her, the birthday song played on the laptop on the table. Then we welcomed anyone to break the connection by letting go and then re-hold hands (turning the song on and off).

So can the MaKey MaKey encourage youth to think creatively about user-interfaces and develop a basic understanding of computer inputs and circuits. I would suspect so. Do we need that at the AMNH? The jury is still out.

How could you use a MaKey MaKey to teach science or world cultures?

About Barry

The Associate Director For Digital Learning, Youth Initiatives at the American Museum of Natural History.
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One Response to Digital Playground: MaKey MaKey

  1. Nice post! I really like the way you think through what feels different about using the bell vs the plant as a controller. I also especially like that you show something that doesn’t work, the dollar bill, and the process of figuring out how to make it work. awesome.

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