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Friday, 26 June 2015

Using Makey-Makey Boards with Scratch

When I first bought a makey-makey board, I saw it as a toy. However after letting my class play with it, I soon realised it had more educational value than it was letting on, providing a great tool for engagement and motivation.

My first use came while trying to extend some high achievers in ICT, as it was then, when using scratch. The children were already making games with an olympic theme (think Daley Thompson’s Decathlon) and creating a controller with the board was a suitable extension. The problem was it was an extension that everyone wanted to access. By the end of the unit I had bought four more and all of the class had programmed a scratch game controlled by the board.

For the uninitiated, a makey-makey board is a circuit board that connects to a computer via a usb lead. Once connected certain computer inputs can be mimicked by connecting the device to electrical conductors and completing the circuit with an earth connection.

The unit that I now teach, which developed as a result of our tinkering, is described below.

To introduce the board to the children, we watched the makey-makey promotional video on youtube before I gave several boards out with the instruction to connect them to the computer. Once they were able to type something into a text editor, we moved on to playing games on Friv. The challenge here was for children to find games that could be controlled by the board and design a controller to play the game. The next activity combined elements of science and computing as children tested a range of materials to see if they were electrical conductors. The children created scratch programs that identified when an object completed an electrical circuit. By the end of these two sessions the children had a sound understanding of how the boards worked and how they could be used as an input. The next step was designing input based programs in scratch with the makey-makey board in mind.

The children's challenge was to design an activity, containing variables and conditional statements, that would be controlled by the makey-makey boards. Their programs ranged from maze games, to two-player racing games and keepie-uppie games. My favourite though was an on-screen piano that was controlled by a play-doh keyboard (an idea taken from the promotional video). This involved a group of three children working collaboratively to program a piano simulation.The lure of being able to play this piano definitely gave them renewed resilience and ensured that they stuck at this project until completion. After using these boards for a few years, I am still surprised by the ideas that children come up with and the perseverance they show to complete their program and long may this continue.

If you're looking to extend children with their use of scratch but are not yet ready to make the leap to text based programming, using a makey-makey board could be the challenge your class needs.

Resources to support the activities mentioned above can be downloaded from here.

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