Learning to Program With MaKey MaKey in Elementary School

This week I am hosting some guest bloggers. This is a guest post from Julie Smith.

Computer programming has become the new “literacy” that many teachers and school districts are implementing to help students exercise critical thinking and problem solving skills. Students of all ages gravitate towards creating and implementing programs–large and small–that they create digitally. Our technology department recently purchased two MaKey MaKeys for every elementary ITRT to use when collaborating with teachers on special projects that involve computer programming.

What is a MaKey MaKey?

Basically, it is a small invention kit made for ALL ages. The kit comes with a small MaKey MaKey board, wires, alligator clips and a USB cable. You can take everyday objects and turn them into a touch pad that interacts with a computer program. Objects attached to the MaKey MaKey (fruit, Play-Doh, tin foil, copper tape) become “buttons” that replace a basic keyboard or mouse. Operate a computer game with play dough, fruit or even a glass of water!

When I first saw these contraptions my initial reaction was how in the world would we incorporate these devices with our demanding academic curriculum? The last couple of months my instructional technology team and I have had a ball coming up with strong academic tie-ins for using MaKey MaKeys and programming with our elementary students. I was astonished how easily and naturally programming and incorporating MaKey MaKeys have been, even for first graders! Just the other day I was working with first graders who were learning about the four cardinal directions. We had them create interactive compass roses by programming a sprite in Scratch to move north, south, east or west depending on the arrow key they pressed. Some students were even able to add voice recordings to their script!

To test their program, they hooked up a MaKey MaKey to their computer and attached their alligator clips to BANANAS. They called out a cardinal direction to each other and their partner had to tap the correct banana to make their sprite move in the proper direction. This simple activity stirred up such curiosity about how the MaKey MaKey circuit worked that the students wanted to extend their learning by testing out what other objects would activate their sprite.

Another MaKey MaKey lesson we did was with a 2nd grade class. The teacher said her students were struggling with counting US coins. Therefore, we hooked up the MaKey MaKey to a penny, nickel, dime and quarter and programmed Scratch to calculate the coin totals each time a coin was touched.

I hear that even high school students get quite excited over these devices. After all, I have seen most adults get giddy the first time they test out a MaKey MaKey. The engagement these invention kits bring to the classroom is extraordinary. I’m looking forward to discovering new ways to incorporate these kits into the K-5 curriculum!

A MaKey MaKey first experience (I LOVE the curiosity at the very end):

Programming and MaKey MaKey in action:

Julie Smith is an elementary Instructional Technology Coach for Henrico County Public Schools in Henrico, Virginia. She works with teachers and students in PreK-5th grade. Julie is the author of the blog, The Techie Teacher . You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.


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