Photo Oct 07, 6 50 29 PM
MaKey MaKey and supplies

What would you do with this stuff? Tweens who came to my Tuesday night program designed a functioning computer mouse with a potato and some play dough, a game controller with bananas, and a human piano (sort of).

Device Basics:

  • What is it?

MaKey MaKey is “the invention kit for everyone.” A small circuit board plugs into the USB port of your computer. By attaching alligator clips to the board and then to items that are conductive, you can turn all kinds of things into keys for the computer, allowing you to connect the tangible world to the virtual world of the computer.

  • What’s in the Box?

A board, USB cord, several alligator clips, several wires, instructions, and stickers.

  • How Much?

This retails for $49.95 plus shipping

  • Age Range?

Broad. I used it with 5th and 6th graders.

  • How Did We Acquire it?

Purchased through ILEADUSA grant funds.

Ideas for Use

MaKey Makey has a great blog with collected project submissions. I started the program by giving a brief description of what the tool can do, then showing some videos to give the kids an idea of some of the really creative ways other people have used it. Then I set them loose in teams since we had two devices.

Photo Oct 07, 7 24 29 PMOne team set to work clipping on as many things as they could, and quickly realized that they had gobs of short circuits and no way of actually controlling anything. I gave them pointers when they asked and asked questions about their process when they didn’t, and soon they were back on track making a game controller and a banana piano.

Photo Oct 07, 7 39 23 PMThe other team was a lot more methodical and carefully constructed a basic up/down/left/right/click setup and started playing an online racing game. Then they pulled up another game to play and realized that they needed mouse functionality. I showed them how to flip the board over and connect the small wires at different points to create the inputs for the mouse. But how to make something that allows for a smooth, constantly responsive control? We went back to the project videos and the boys found one called Interactive Chairs that ignited a spark. If they could make a rocking platform like the chairs, then they could have a smooth movement that controls the different mouse inputs. Here’s what they came up with: the wires connect to closely placed blobs of play dough and are taped to the table so they don’t bounce around, then a small, round potato rests on a coiled pipe cleaner in the center of the four dough blobs. You control the mouse like you would a roller ball mouse – by rolling the potato around under your hand. I thought it was awesome!

I liked this approach of giving them time, space, and supplies in order to create their own projects. In talking with one of the mothers while the kids worked, it seems I’m not alone in that idea. “I just want them to have chances to try new things, but they are already so busy that it’s hard to find low-key opportunities,” she told me. I’m offering a Maker Day one evening a month to allow for just this kind of interaction, so it was reassuring that the program is resonating with our members.

Time Involved

Plan a trip to the store or supply closet for supplies: play dough, pipe cleaners, pencils and paper, foil, and/or food products (which were the most fun, but also can get messy).

One-time or Recurring Program

You could run this program again and again. The next time I offer it, I plan to have a different variety of “keys” and I might have some themes or websites selected. I like being able to set it up as a team v. team activity as that seems to encourage the kids in my programs.

Extension Activities

Browse through the Makey Makey gallery and you will be astounded by the various ways to use this clever gadget! Once your teens master the basics, they can explore with the Arduino plugin options and program their own activities in addition to creating their own controller.

As a librarian, you could work this into interactive displays in the library. I may think on this one and try something out. If I do, I’ll definitely post about it in the future.

Skills You Need

For the basics, all you need is to watch the intro video. It’s very simple to start.

Other Tools You Need

I supplied additional alligator clips and the above mentioned conductive items.

Good Stuff

Easy, fun, novel, lots of room for expansion and setting up specific challenges.


Cleaning banana goo and play dough out of tiny alligator clips. Word of warning: those things are slippery when wet and have a nasty pinch!

Two or perhaps three kids per device seems about the max, unless they are constructing larger items or working together on a bigger project.

Ending Thoughts/Observations

For the price, this offers a lot of flexibility and fun.

Overall Rating:

Full STEAM ahead.

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