Almost all computer coding tools use the conventional keyboard and mouse interface. While this is naturally a good option, Makey Makey, founded by two students at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Media Lab, has set out to reinvent this by allowing kids to use real world objects to input computer commands.
Makey Makey originally started out as an academic project by the students who didn’t realise the device’s potential until the first prototype was shown in 2010. A successful Kickstarter campaign in 2012 raised over USD$500,000 and since then the company has grown its operations significantly, including adding another portable product, the Makey Makey GO along with the Makey Makey classic.
What is it?
At its core, the Makey Makey Classic’s function is no different than a mouse or keyboard; to provide a form of input to a computer. However, where the device differentiates itself from more mundane types of inputs is the number of different things it can use to provide commands. Unlike other computer peripherals, one thing I noticed during the Makey Makey review was that installing the Makey Makey is rather challenging and requires parental help. After connecting the device to a computer with an included USB cable, parents will need to install the appropriate drivers available online. Following the installation, kids can then connect to the Makey Makey by attaching an alligator clip to the “EARTH” section of the Makey Makey’s board and holding the metal side. With the connection to the user established, it is now possible to attach real world items to the MaKey MaKey via the included alligator clips.
The connection process is simple in comparison to setting up the device and can be done by almost anyone. All children have to do is clip an object to the Makey Makey Classic’s circuit board and touch it while holding the metal earth clip to deliver input. The Makey Makey classic’s circuit board is double sided and contains different input commands on both sides. The front of the board features simple commands like spacebar and left click, while the bottom contains more keyboard oriented commands like the W, A, S, D keys. It is important to note that the Makey Makey board’s functions significantly differ in the Classic and GO versions, with the Classic version containing a lot more inputs. Since the Makey Makey can use anything that conducts electricity as a form of input, this makes it possible to connect a lot of different things to the Makey Makey from eatable items like fruit to plants, aluminum foil, rain and even people. You can imagine how much fun this is for kids.
Whether it is a game or an application aimed towards making something else, the abundance of options that the Makey Makey can connect with means that imagination is the only limit when using the device. For instance, one area where the Makey Makey Classic’s ability to take a lot of different inputs valued is music creation. The use of paper as a creation material shines as it can allow kids to make their own programmable instruments like mini pianos and drums with readily available materials. Other prominent Makey Makey projects are usually games. Using the Makey Makey as an input tool in game creation is very popular as many children find playing a game of Mario or Pacman with a physical Playdoh gamepad much more appealing than a keyboard. For kids wanting to try out the Makey Makey before creating anything, Makey Makey provides many free apps to use with the device in the apps section on their website.
Despite the prevalence entertainment-oriented projects, much of the devices appeal remains around learning. One of the best ways children can learn with the Makey Makey is by using it in conjunction with Scratch. For those unfamiliar, Scratch is a popular online educational coding platform that allows kids to create and share their own animations, games, and art. The Makey Makey is fully compatible with the coding language and allows children to build their own projects and games using the device efficiently. Scratch also provides an assortment of games compatible with the Makey Makey for kids to tinker with. While Scratch is not required to use the Makey Makey, the platform is a great source of knowledge and learning for any kid interested in computer science. Overall, Scratch projects made with the Makey Makey can allow kids to further their interest and create by using physical things to command the same functions otherwise occupied by a mouse and keyboard.
Makey Makey Go v Makey Makey Classic
After the finding the original full sized 1.2 model Makey Makey to be a huge success, Makey Makey launched a slimmer Makey Makey GO along with the Makey Makey Classic in 2015. The Makey Makey GO is 1 inch shorter and does not require a USB cable to connect to computers. However, the portability of the Makey Makey GO comes at a cost as the device only features one output compared to 18 outputs that the Makey Makey classic has. Having a single output means that the Makey Makey GO is limited to simpler projects better suited towards younger kids. Ignoring the decrease in outputs, the Makey Makey GO is a great tool for beginners and is available for half the price of the Classic version.
The Makey Makey isn’t like other pieces of software or toys designed to teach children to code; it’s unique. Just like a coloured pencil and sheet of paper, the Makey Makey can give kids the ability to demonstrate their creativity in an environment that encourages learning. Whether it is the Classic Edition or more limited GO model, using the Makey Makey with a coding platform like Scratch is an excellent way to get children to learn and stay interested in code. A significant amount of resources and easy to use software outweigh the somewhat complicated setup procedure and entry cost for the more functional Classic model. Overall, the Makey Makey is a great tool for any parent looking for creative ways to encourage learning.
Gets kids thinking about computers and how they connect with the real world
Fully compatible with Scratch
Compatible with a wide array of items
Somewhat difficult to set up initially