Using a Makey Makey to Create an Interactive Poster Board

With only limited to no experience with Scratch programming and a Makey Makey kit you can engage your students by having them create an interactive poster board. This project works for a variety of cross curricular situations and I've seen it used for students ranging from grades 4-12.

First thing we are going to need is some creativity. What do you want the topic of the poster board to be? I have seen science topics, geography maps, history timelines and musical instruments. Imagination is really the only limitation here. Once you decide on a topic we can lay out our poster board.

To create the interactive poster board we are going to need the following materials.


1 x computer with internet access

1 x Makey Makey

6 x connectors such as alligator cables

1 x piece of Bristol board (you can use a piece of construction paper if you want to make it smaller )

2-3 square feet of aluminum foil

1 x piece of cardboard about a square foot ( can be Cereal box )

Roll of copper wire ( optional )

Scissors

Tape

If you are working with a young class I suggest making no more than five interactive buttons. This ensures that the younger students will only have to run cables for the readily accessible UP, DOWN, LEFT, RIGHT, and SPACE buttons. Although a Makey Makey does have more options with W, A, S, D, F if you want your students to use pin cables on the back of the Makey Makey. For this example project I will be using four buttons.

Take your poster board and cut out circles where you want the interactive buttons to go. These should be neatly cut out as this is going to be the shape of your button.

This particular project is going to be a topic from Science 10 where we are going to be demonstrating the four trophic levels in a food pyramid.

Decide which side of your poster will be the front and which will be the back. Cut out a square of aluminum foil that is slightly bigger than the hole you cut out and tape it to the back of the poster board. Now if the poster is viewed from the front, it should look like a silver circle. Now you are going to cut a piece of copper wire from your roll and connect one end to the back of your aluminum foil button. The other end you are going to run to the edge of your poster board. This should be taped down securely.

SPECIAL NOTE: If you don’t have access to a roll of copper wire, you can use a thin strip of aluminum foil. It will work just as well but it isn’t quite as rugged as using copper wire so you don’t want to be rubbing the back of the poster against a rough surface.

Repeat this process for each button you want to have on your poster. When you run the wires to the edge of your poster board, they should all arrive at the edge of the poster board close together and on the same side. This will make it much easier to connect to the Makey Makey and reduce the amount of wires spread out around the poster.

At this point, you can get creative and decorate the front of the board. The key to a successful project isn’t the coding, it is the content and the creativity that the student dedicates to the original outcome. Remember the idea of building a poster board like this is to integrate coding into another subject. Now is the time for the student to really shine with the topic that you have been recently exploring.

For making this project we were cutting out images from some old Ranger Rick magazines I had kept since I was young, (loved those magazines), and they keep on giving years later.

Once an attractive board is completed you will need to write a script for what will be said aloud when each button is pressed. This should be kept fairly short as if it is too long students have a habit of not waiting for one script to be finished before they start pressing the next button.

Want to know how you can stop a student from spamming buttons? I'll be discussing that in my next blog entry on Poster Boards.

Now is the time to start some coding. Go to the website scratch.mit.edu and get ready to create a new program. If you are planning on saving your program you will likely need to create an account. Once you are in the Scratch editor we are going to write a few lines of code. For each button we are going to have to create an event. The event for each button will be a “When key pressed” event. For this example we'll be making four.

The easiest ones to deal with for this project will be UP, DOWN, LEFT and RIGHT

We’ll now go into the sound option for Scratch and we’re going to record five new sounds. These are going to be the reading scripts that we prepared earlier. Once we complete each recording we are going to attach that sound block to the proper event. Make sure to write down which sound block is attached to which event because that is going to REALLY matter in a moment. It can help to name them something appropriate.

You should now have a program that when you press one of our four keys it plays a sound file that you recorded. If the program is working correctly and playing the sound files then it’s time to get ready to finish the poster board.

Remember those wires you left at the edge of your poster board that were connected to each of your five buttons. Now is the time to connect those wires to the alligator clips. The alligator clips will then be connected to one of the five buttons on the Makey Makey. Make sure you match your buttons on your board to the correct button on the Makey Makey or else it won’t play the correct recording when you press a button.

If you wire the board to the Makey Makey correctly we are almost ready to form a complete circuit. You are going to need to connect a sixth clip to the EARTH panel on the bottom of the Makey Makey. The buttons will only work if the person holding this sixth clip touches the buttons. If you are holding that grounding wire attached to the EARTH now when you press your aluminum foil buttons it should behave exactly the same as if you had just pressed that button on your computer. You now have a talking poster board.

Once you are certain that the wires are correct and that the proper audio files are being played it is time to keep your buttons safe by cutting out squares of cardboard and taping them securely behind each button. The squares of cardboard should be larger than the hole and this is to prevent little fingers from poking through the aluminum foil and destroying your newly created work of art.

And that is that. We now have a poster board created with the Makey Makey that talks when we press buttons. If you are looking for an opoprtunity to introduce a topic in a unique way while getting your students to try their hand at some basic circuits and coding this is a great project for your students to take up which usually takes about 3 days for them to complete.

There are a lot of extensions that can make this project an increasingly rich project for students and I will be excited to go over these extensions in future posts.