Making more than banana pianos with Makey Makey

Makey Makey has been in schools for quite a long time now and is probably one of the first microcontrollers that most primary school students may have come in contact with. However, for all the years of exposure I still often see the same projects rolled out year after year. I’m sure there is something to learn from a banana piano in terms of inputs, processing and outputs but it’s really not giving the students much opportunity to explore their own ideas (changing to a play-doh piano/mario controller is not any better either).

The trick to getting more is to think of Makey Makey as being part of a larger design or system and not the main visible feature. It is a microcontroller and simply a method of transferring cues from the inputs to achieve a bigger designed feature. The Makey Makey also has other features outside of just key or mouse input. Makey Makey doesn’t even need a computer connected to it and some interesting projects can be created simply powered by a mobile phone powerbank.

I have included below some examples projects that get a little more out of the device. Some of these include a prompt card that could be used with students or with teachers. The important thing to remember with ‘teacher designed’ projects, like these, is that you are immediately reducing the amount of opportunities you are giving for the students to explore. So we try to use closed projects sparingly and give as broad as possible a scope for the students to design and influence their own creations.

Touch sensitive glowing Redstone ore block.

The first project here does not have a card but is a project I made myself to see if something was possible. This was an experiment with using conductive 3D printing filament and a Makey Makey together. What this project utilises, as well, is the pin on the rear of the Makey Makey that gives out a 5V power signal with any key on the Makey Makey is pressed. No computer is needed for this one, it’s powered by a battery. The end result is a Minecraft Redstone ore block that when touched on two sides together glows from an internal LED strip.

Magnetic Maze Game

This project came from a group of my Year 4 (8 year old) students who entirely devised and constructed this themselves. The idea was to use a paperclip attached to the Earth wire as the player and control it with a magnet on the rear of the maze board. They then built their maze out of playdoh and connected a directional input on the Makey Makey to the maze structure. The program on Scratch is pretty simple and they managed to make it count the number of times you hit the wall. For the project card I’ve recommended that copper tape may be better than playdoh as the playdoh dries out pretty quick and stops being very conductive.

Using Arcade Buttons to make controllers

Arcade buttons have become one of my favourite additions to a Makey Makey as they are very easy to use ‘push to make’ switches that students already have a good understanding of how they work. To use arcade buttons (or any switches) in a Makey Makey project you simply connect one side to the key input and the other to the earth.

Student’s are going to be using arcade buttons in a project to design and build a controller for a Scratch game they have coded themselves soon. Last year we did something similar by building a device called Quad Play that the students built games for.

The Quad Play project can be found in more detail here

Spin Art Machine

This project came from the amazing Colleen Graves and her book ‘20 Makey Makey Projects for the Evil Genius‘. As such I’m not going to talk too much about the process, please buy her book as it is awesome. This is another project that uses the 5V output pin on the rear of the board. Our prompt sheet looks a little like this:

One of our Year 5 teachers made one during a staff training session, video below:

 

Floor pressure sensors or a dance mat

Dance mats are one of the more common Makey Makey projects but also a good one. There is quite a bit of thought that goes into making something robust and usable by a player and can result in other innovations to improve on it. Floor pressure sensors have been used by some schools to make some amazing musical corridors, stairs or displays.

This is cool but not really a pressure sensor. A much more challenging project is to devise a way to not have the player having to be connected to the Earth wire. This leads into creating some sort of floor switch. You could actually use a low profile push switch (like the arcade buttons) or create something with sponges or springy material. This video below uses sponges to keep the parts seperate until stepped on.

 

Drawer or door alarm

This is always a popular project with students as they like the idea of making a security alarm for a precious item or a room door. The premise is straight forward but deciding what happens is a challenge. The code for this often involves some good ‘if, else’ logic and we had some students connect it to a computers webcam to photograph the intruder.


Interactive Display Board

We have had a few students do this before and create a board or wall display that encourages viewers to come and touch it. An example that sticks out was a group of students who wanted to provide a voice over to an art exhibition. They recorded their voice overs and attached them to a simple program in Scratch. Visitors would use a foil wand to touch info points around the display and the voice would start over a set of speakers below the display. They hid their computer under a table but this could be made headless using a Raspberry Pi very easily. Sadly I can’t yet find any photos or videos of interactive displays our students made but I’ll update this when I find them.

A great extension on this would be to make an interactive quiz game where you have to physically touch the answers.

Hacking an object to integrate a Makey Makey

A Makey Makey project doesn’t have to involve making an entirely new object. There is plenty of scope for hacking a Makey Makey into something else. This is not a project we have spent too much time on but it is something I would like to try with our Year 3 students over the current musical instrument making project they do at the moment. I’d love them to take an instrument from the music room and work out how to turn it into a digital instrument.

 

We have found the thinking routines from Harvard’s Project Zero, Agency by Design to be good for getting students to be looking more closely at their designs and the designs of others. Two routines that are quick and prompt great discussion are ‘Parts, Purposes and Complexities’ and ‘Imagine If…’. You can read more about the Agency by Design thinking routines here.

These projects are just a few possibilities and I’m sure your students and teachers can come up with loads more. If you want to download all of these cards as a zip then please click here. I’d love to see some other Makey Makey projects from your school, please do drop me some pics on twitter if you can share.