The Makey Makey kit started as a product on Kickstarter that was developed by two MIT students. The kit contains a circuit board and a bunch of alligator clips that allow you connect every day objects to your computer. The circuit board has several sets of holes which you can attach the alligator clips to. Each set of holes corresponds to a command that you can send to a computer which is connected to the circuit board using a USB cable.
The other side of the alligator clip can be attached to virtually anything that conducts electricity. This is where the creativity allowed by the Makey Makey really shines. Almost anything can be used to control your computer, Jello, bananas, pots and pans, cups of water…you’ve got a lot of options!
In order for the Makey Makey to send a signal to the computer the circuit also needs to be closed. To do this you can connect an alligator clip to the Earth portion of the circuit board and then hold the other side of the clip. When you are holding the metal part of the clip and touch one of your objects connected to the circuit board it completes the electrical circuit and sends the signal to the computer.
Controlling your computer with the Makey Makey
Now that you have the Makey Makey connected to your controls you need something interesting for it to control on your computer. The circuit board contains signals for the arrow keys (left, right, up, down) as well as the click and space bar. On their own these controls don’t let you do much. Thankfully MIT has another project called Scratch which allows you to create simple programs (without needing any programming knowledge) and use your Makey Makey to control them. Even better, there are a ton of projects already in Scratch that have been designed for the Makey Makey. You can jump right into one of those without doing any program building.
We connected our circuit board to some craft sticks covered in foil to create a mini drum set using this Scratch project (https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/2728243/). A quick search of Scratch shows many projects set up to work with the Makey Makey including mini Mario and Pac-Man games, piano and drum simulators and a ton of other creative projects.
Timing Hot Wheels Cars
One of the cool projects we saw on Scratch was one designed to measure the speed of a car on a Hot Wheels track. It was a slightly more complicated project because it required building a couple of switches that are triggered when a hot wheels car passes them.
We created two switches using LEGO and foil. The switches were designed so that when the car hit the LEGO bar it was pushed into another piece of foil that was connected to the Earth cable. When the two pieces of foil touched it completed the circuit which sent the command to the computer. We used one switch to start the timer and the other switch to stop the timer. This gave us a time for how long it took the car to make it around the track
The Makey Makey is definitely an interesting tool for science and technology discovery. It allows for a lot of creativity and you can find all sorts of interesting project examples online. For older kids the ability to create their own computer programs for the Makey Makey adds a whole other level of learning and creativity