Makey Makey

I am very late to the Makey Makey party, I know. In case you don’t know what it is, it’s a gizmo that plugs into just about any computer’s USB port. The computer thinks it’s a normal USB keyboard (MacOS X gets a bit hilariously sniffy about it, but it does work), and you can wire up anything that will conduct a small amount of electricty to it, and trigger keypresses by touching it. What does this mean? It means you can play a game or a piano by touching bananas, of course.

I’d never seen one until the other night, and the price always put me off. But at Code Club’s second birthday party, that all changed. Thanks to Marc Grossman for showing me the Makey Makey hooked up to Scratch (and for giving me loads of tips about teaching Scratch as well!). He showed me Play Doh controllers and also pointed out one thing I hadn’t realised: you need to be earthed, which means holding a wire in one hand to allow you to make a circuit by touching a blob of Play Doh (or banana, or market vegetable of your choice). The chief downside of this was that I had to put my beer down, but hey, I made the sacrifice in the name of science.

I was sold on the Makey Makey. I can see that it’s a fantastically simple way of hooking even more children into the possibilities of computers, of Scratch and Making. So yesterday I rushed out and bought one.

For our first project, we opened Scratch and set up some events that would play different noises when different arrow keys were pressed. Here’s Tilly demonstrating it.

Next I opened up my Scaredy Squirrel Scratch game I used in Year 2 – as this uses the arrow keys to move Scaredy around the screen, we didn’t even need to modify the code, just hooked up 4 bananas in a gamepad arrangement. Here’s Henry playing the game with bananas.

But it’s when you flip the Makey Makey over that things start to get really interesting…

I had thought all it could do was emulate cursor keys, space bar and clicks. Not so. On the back there are pins on the left that emulate other keyboard keys: W, A, S, D, F and G. Even more interestingly, the pins on the right emulate mouse movements and clicks. This has got me thinking about making some object that will allow you to draw on the screen – Scratch would be a good environment to get this going.

But there is still more. Intrigued by the ‘output’ pins on the top, I did a bit more digging, and it turns out that the Makey Makey contains an Arduino! This makes the price seem a bit more reasonable. It also means you can reprogram it so that it emulates any keypresses you like. This could be important if you want to use the Makey Makey to control a piece of software with key controls you can’t customise and which aren’t supported by default by the Makey Makey. The output pins also trigger 5v when certain keys are made, meaning that you can also control other things with the Makey Makey, such as motors and lights.

My mind is buzzing with ideas for the Makey Makey now – I think we might try drawing some buttons on paper with pencil next, or make a musical keyboard with jam jars filled with water. I really, really wish I’d had one when I was in year 2, now. They would have loved it, and I know they would have come up with some amazing ideas for what to make with it.

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One Response to Makey Makey

  1. Linda Sandvik says:

    Awesome!

    Do you have pets? Pets conduct electricity, the most popular makey makey thing I’ve made was a pet-camera: http://12devsofxmas.co.uk/2013/01/day-12-fun-with-makey-makeys-for-kids-of-all-ages/

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