Transforming “Screen Time” with MakeyMakeys


As an EdTech Coach, I’ve been questioning the quality of screentime happening in many classrooms and schools. For the past few years it’s seemed that more and more schools continue to purchase devices, without properly thinking about how it should be used to enhance not replace teaching. While I still preach and model how tech can enhance learning for students, I’m wondering how much longer laptops and iPads will simply act as substitutes for teaching and learning.

Some anti-tech colleagues were recently discussing the ‘harmful’ effects of computers on learning, referencing this article by the BBC:

[Sean Coughlan discusses findings from an OECD report]:

The [OECD] report says:

  • Students who use computers very frequently at school get worse results
  • Students who use computers moderately at school, such as once or twice a week, have “somewhat better learning outcomes” than students who use computers rarely
  • The results show “no appreciable improvements” in reading, mathematics or science in the countries that had invested heavily in information technology
  • High achieving school systems such as South Korea and Shanghai in China have lower levels of computer use in school
  • Singapore, with only a moderate use of technology in school, is top for digital skills

“One of the most disappointing findings of the report is that the socio-economic divide between students is not narrowed by technology, perhaps even amplified,” said Mr Schleicher.

Articles and studies like these are only further evidence of the misuses of technology in schools. They will further hinder an overall change in mindset about the importance of embedding effective and purposeful practices that promote digital citizenship in the classroom.

What do kids do with technology
CC Image by: Bill Ferriter on Flickr “Technology is a Tool”


For this reason, I am thrilled that new educational products are coming out to help bridge screentime with core subjects. MakeyMakey is one fantastic example of enhancing screen-based coding and programming on Scratch to related outcomes in science and math. These ‘invention kits’ also reinforce creativity, problem-solving and collaboration skills as students work together to create. I decided to introduce these ‘invention kits’ in G1-G5 to see the potential in classrooms.

I first used MakeyMakeys over the summer at the STEM Playground during the Apple Distinguished Educator‘s Institute in Netherlands. There were a ton of other amazing toys to play with and exlore, but I immediately saw a multitude of connections for MakeyMakeys with Science, Tech, Music, Math. I created this video below to showcase some of the ‘newer’ tech products on the market that allow students to engage with hands-on real-world programming, for all ages:

At first glance, the MakeyMakey Keboard looks intimidating. But the set up and instructions at their website are so straight forward that it was no problem to figure out on my own.

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 15.02.50
Screenshot from “How To MakeyMakey” website


MaKey MaKey Kit Photo on Grey, Closeup on MaKey MaKey
CC Image by: jayahimsa Flickr


Grade 1 Unit of Inquiry: Investigating Light Energy

I knew that Grade 1s would really enjoy the MakeyMakeys but the purpose of using them in class was to initiate dialogue about how electricity flows.  For this reason, I set up certain ‘provocation’ stations with the MakeyMakeys, with the alligator clips, bananas, Play-Doh, and Tin foil already in place.

Students inquired into how to make it work (I didn’t tell them about the ‘Earth’ Tinfoil bracelets at first) and they were excited when they did manage to make sound come out of their computers, or make the game work. At some point I did need to indicate the importance of holding onto the ‘Earth’ tinfoil bracelet for the circuit to be complete, and for the game to work.

Some of the questions that came up were: Where does the energy go? How does it travel? Why does the Banana Keyboard only work with the Tinfoil bracelet? The video below shows their thinking as they investigated electricity through the MakeyMakey & online games:

Grades 3-5 After School Club

Tuning In

When I introduced it to Grades 3-5 students during our Digital Design club, I gave them a chance to figure out how it works first. It was interesting to see what they already knew about circuits, power sources, and how electricity flows. Still, it took some guided instructions from the website for all the students in my club to get the MakeyMakey up and running with a program.

Finding Out

I wanted students to have a discussion about circuits and the flow of electricity. So I started off projecting the MakeyMakey piano on the Smartboard. Then I connected students to each alligator clip, and nominated one person to be the ‘pianist’. Holding the ‘Earth’ Alligator clip (this can also be a tinfoil bracelet as seen in G1 video above), this student proceeded to slap students’ hands to produce different notes on the piano. I then took the ‘Earth’ clip away from him and he wasn’t able to play the students’ hands anymore. As a group, we talked about what was different and indicated the ‘earth’ clip completed the circuit. We traced the flow of electricity from the power source (battery of laptop) down the USB cord to the MakeyMakey, through the Earth alligator clip on one hand/wrist and out through the other hand, slapping the ‘notes’ (student hands) connected to the MakeyMakey keyboard. (Unfortunately no photos available so hope this description will do!)

Sorting Out & Going Further

Students then had about 30 minutes on their own to try various Scratch games such as Super Mario Bros, Mazes, Bongos and the Piano. MakeyMakey Scratch Studio has many student-created games for these kits.

MakeyMakeys are an exciting way to broaden the scope of ‘technology in the classroom’. It will be interesting to see how ‘tech integration’ changes as more invention-type kits become available to bridge the gap between ‘screentime’ and hands-on science.




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