Overview of the MaKey MaKey for educators of students with diverse needs

Posted on February 22, 2013 in Teaching

What is it?

The MaKey MaKey is a neat little circuit board that allows you to turn nearly anything into a keyboard or mouse that works on any computer. All you have to do to get started is use alligator clip wire to connect different parts of the board to physical objects like leaves, Play-Doh, fruit, pasta and much, much more (literally anything that conducts even a little bit of electricity). Whenever you touch these objects, you trigger a keyboard or mouse action like hitting the Space key or clicking the left mouse button.

The MaKey MaKey has become very popular recently with educators and electronics enthusiasts because of how easy it makes it to interact with computers without conventional keyboards and mice. By connecting the MaKey MaKey to random objects brand new, super-cheap interfaces can be built by you and your students to play with computers in a much more personalized way. It seems like the MaKey MaKey is primarily intended for children and very playful interactions, but it can also be a very powerful tool for enabling students with certain types of disabilities to use computers in ways they are not able to currently.

Throughout this semester, and through the summer, I’ll be documenting and experimenting with the MaKey MaKey as a assistive tool for enabling creative expression for students with diverse needs with the eventual goal of generating lesson plans and other curricular material that will be used by art educators later this year.

What makes the MaKey MaKey so special?

top_explained_l[1]The key selling point of the MaKey MaKey is it’s simplicity; a single brightly colored board and a couple of wires are all it takes to create your very own computer interface. This simplicity means that within minutes of unboxing the kit, educators and students can be using their very own custom-made interfaces, spending less time fussing with the technology and more time finding novel uses for it.

What can I do with it?

For educators teaching students with diverse needs, the MaKey MaKey can be used as an extremely cheap, completely customizable platform for building computer interfaces on demand. With the same basic components, an educator can create specific interfaces with their students that are tailored for their specific needs and abilities. With the MaKey MaKey, not only can students have interfaces that are built just for them, they can have multiple interfaces to aid them in doing different tasks!

The MaKey MaKey is so simple and opens up so many possibilities that it can be hard to imagine what exactly to use it for at first. Throughout this semester and summer, I’ll be documenting many possible uses for the MaKey MaKey as an assistive tool for students with disabilities, but here are just a few quick examples to get you thinking about what can be done:

frogger Playing Frogger with aluminum pads
Wires from the MaKey MaKey are connected to what looks like small pieces of cardboard covered in aluminum foil. As the children press the aluminum pads, they trigger keyboard commands like pressing the arrow keys.

(from @HarleyEdTech on Twitter.)
operation Oversized “Operation” clone using cardboard and aluminum foil
Very simple, functional game of “Operation” using small rings of cardboard wrapped in aluminum foil and chopsticks.

(from @joshburker on Twitter, more at Adafruit blog)
Teaching kids about zoo animals with drawings and copper tape
Children were able to create their own board game to explore a website containing information about animals. The board game was simply some paper, copper tape and Play-Doh.

What kinds of materials work with the MaKey MaKey?

Anything that conducts even a small amount of electricity will likely work with the MaKey MaKey. This includes, but is not at all limited to:

  • Fruit and foods (bananas, apples, celery, meat, cheese, etc. Try it all!)
  • Plants, as long as its not too dry.
  • People and animals (be nice!)
  • Metals like aluminum and copper (aluminum foil, coins, soda cans, food cans, etc.)
  • Pencil markings (make sure they are nice and thick).
  • Play-Doh and other hobby clays

There are even some really neat new types of conductive materials out there because of people who are experimenting with wearable electronics. Here are some really cool examples of more exotic materials you can get to connect to your MaKey MaKey:

copper tape Copper tape
Exactly what it sounds like; flexible tape made of copper, with an adhesive backing so you can flex it and stick it anywhere you want. You can cut this stuff up to be whatever size you’d like!

Buy it at Adafruit, SparkFun or Amazon
conductive thread Conductive thread
Actual thread made from (or coated with) metal! You can use it with normal sewing equipment like needles and sewing machines to embed electronic circuits into fabrics. Usually this stuff is washable and easy to use.

Buy some at Adafruit, SparkFun
conductive fabric Conductive fabric
A bunch of conductive thread woven into fabric form, conducts electricity great. Sew patches of this material onto jackets and other articles of clothing to turn your clothes into MaKey MaKey interfaces!

Buy some at Adafruit or SparkFun
conductive paint Conductive paint
Paint with small particles of conductive material blended in, turning almost any surface into a conductive material that you can use with the MaKey MaKey. The possibilities of this stuff are truly mind-blowing, though the material is a tad expensive right now.

Buy some at SparkFun or LessEMF

How do I get started?

Getting started with the MaKey MaKey is extremely easy – just buy a kit from one of the sources below and start connecting it to random objects! The kit typicalyl costs about $50, including USB cable and some alligator clip wires. Once you have a kit, you can get started by checking out the official MaKey MaKey “how-to” guide. Grab the kit at: