Getting Unstuck with Makey Makey

The banana piano, a classic beginner project for Makey Makey. Image from Library Makers. The blog also provides instructions:

Does this ever happen to you?

You become hands-on with a new technology and have fun making your first project, and sharing it. You encounter inspirational ideas about what to do next, but somehow the options seem overwhelming. You see that others seem to be able to make things that intentionally teach concepts in ways that you can’t quite imagine. You find yourself in a loop of simply bookmarking all the projects that you could try next. Yet, you never seem to move on to make something useful.

The Banana Barrier

I recently heard a discussion between two instructors about using Makey Makey in educational settings. Both educators were describing the limitations of the technology. One said, “You can play drums on fruit, but you can’t do much else”.  I became curious about what was happening in this moment. I was curious, because after making fruit bongos and experimenting with other conductive materials, I too had encountered a similar feeling of stalling.  What next?

Stalling at fruit bongos doesn’t seem to be anything to do with the technology of the Makey Makey.  Makey Makey is a small inventing kit with everything you need to get started interacting with any conductive material.  It includes a board, wires, alligator clips and USB cable.

Makey Makey’s educators guide has a chapter called “beyond the banana piano”.  I found similar phrases used when talking about the Makey Makey “beyond fruit bongos”. There was evidence of this curious “banana barrier” when faced with this wonderful little invention kit.

So, what could be happening here?

Think Like an Inventor

Jay Silver, and Eric Rosenbaum founders of JoyLabz who created Makey Makey refer to a concept of “invention literacy”.  Silver’s TED talk describes that nature was the early inspiration for the Makey Makey. Silver also explores the basics of why, as soon as you feel that you know the limit of any object, this is the invention trigger point. Whether an object is human made or natural, that very moment that you feel that you already know what it does, is the moment to leap with your imagination! The conversation between two educators I had been listening to,  were two people poised on the precipice of inventing. They were educators standing alongside their students!

Beyond the Banana: Leveraging Everyday Experiences

Although I had already seen many examples of cool projects with Makey Makey (Colleen Graves amongst my favourites), my own leap in using Makey Makey in a project came from simplicity.

I was walking along at the university campus I work at. It was a windy day, and I noticed all the posters about bands and social events on jam-packed noticeboards.  They were all fluttering madly in the wind and making a sort of “music” or “chatter”. I walk past these boards often, but this time, I thought about how paper had attracted my attention differently. That’s when I started thinking about how amazing the idea of a simple rectangle of paper is, as a communication platform.

This thinking was taking place having also just seen my daughter enjoy success in a recent primary school poster competition.  Children of all ages entered. The following week, I witnessed more poster passion from senior students who had crafted incredible posters in a Wax Museum project.  This is when my thinking finally went “beyond the banana”.

The students were standing next to incredible posters they had made about people they admired.  As the students were posing as wax exhibits, you couldn’t “talk” or interact with the students as they posed as their characters.  I started thinking about posters, and posters fluttering in the wind and then the potential for the posters to “talk for” the muted wax museum characters.  I realised that of course, the Makey Makey could make posters very interactive with simple materials and software.

There were projects that inspired me:

The Creative Leap

So this is the part of the article where I tell you that I made an informative and educational example of a talking poster, using Makey Makey.

Except, that I didn’t.

Instead, I made something completely wacky, fun and sort of useless.  In feeling embarrassed at the attention this project is gathering, but enjoying the fun that kids and adults are having through it, I was relieved to discover incredible inventors, like Simone Giertz also highly recommend why you should make something completely useless.

With the idea of  “talking paper”, I walked past an object on my shelf that I had made years ago.  Although not naturally “conductive”, I suddenly realized that because it was made of paper, it could be! I saw it differently. Even though I am not the first to make this object, the creative leap was individual to me.

Making something useless also led to iterations of this same idea that I can’t  wait to try with the Makey Makey. My project took my intrigue around a silly idea of “talking paper” into an unexpected direction around one of my passions.  This might never have happened if I hadn’t noticed paper blowing in the wind.

Look around! What will you notice that will lead you into your own creative leap with the Makey Makey?

More on what I made recently with Makey Makey and Scratch, and how students hacked it, in a future post.  In the meantime, here is a sneak peak.


  Comments: 1

  1. Check out this “Interactive Stairway” designed and built by high school students from the “Friends Central School” in Philadelphia. The design challenge was to “creatively enhance community and connection”. It used the Makey Makey. Video is here:

    High school Computer Science students learn about design by using the Makey Makey to help elementary school students with severe and profound physical challenges. Video is here:

    Makey Makey recently launched a website for sharing educator created Makey Makey lesson plans and projects and it can be found here:

    There’s also 3,000 educators in the “Makey Makey Educators Facebook Group” sharing project ideas and providing support to each other – find it here:

    This is just a sample of ideas “beyond the banana piano”. I’ve been collected ideas from around the world that show how the Makey Makey has been used to solve real world problems and improve people’s lives.

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