Makey Makey @ Summer Mix 2015

During July & August 2015, I ran a series of Makey Makey workshops as part of Plymouth City Council’s Summer Mix project (free summer courses for young people between 11-19) at Plymouth College of Art.


I was aware that the workshop participants would be likely to have used Scratch (a visual programming language / authoring tool developed at MIT by a team including one of the co-creators of Makey Makey) at school before, as learning code in primary school in the UK has been included in the curriculum since 2013. I was particularly excited about exploring ways that experimenting with Makey Makey could allow the participants to build on the knowledge they had already developed in school, applying their programming know-how to include real-world objects and objects beyond the computer / on-screen environment.



We started each day with a few icebreakers as the young people in the groups hadn’t met before and would need to gel quickly and work together. Each of these icebreakers were chosen because of their structural similarities with computational activities (sorting, sequencing, algorithms etc) and for the ways in which they encouraged the participants to move about, interact, learn each others’ names and beginning to share with / rely on each other in a low-pressure environment.

> Let’s get the measure of each other

Getting the young people to line up across the space in order of:

  • Height, from smallest to tallest.
  • Birthdays, from January through to December.
  • Alphabetical mothers’ first names.

> Group Juggling

With 5 or 6 tennis balls on hand, start with a single ball

  • 1st round – “Hi Freddy, my name is Rachel…here you go!” [throw the ball to Freddy] “Thank you Rachel” ” Hi James, my name is Freddy… here you” [and so on around the circle]
  • 2nd round – repeat – “Right, well done, now let’s see if we can that again – making sure we use the same order, and using each other’s names.  Remember to say the name of the person you are throwing to, and thank the person (by name) for throwing it to you, OK?” [throw]
  • 3rd round – faster – “Good, so how about we do it again, but this time, let’s let’s see how fast we can do it, OK?  Here we go…Hi Freddy, my name is James….” [throw]
  • 4th round – more balls – add more complexity by throwing in more balls as the 1st ball is ‘in play’, starting with “Hi Freddy, my name is Rachel…here you go!” while another ball is still in motion

> Massively Multi Player Thumb War

Massively Multi-Player Thumb War


This game was invented 15 years ago by an artists’ collective in Austria named Monochrom & used by a writer called Jane McGonnigle to get around 6000 people who watched her TED talk to play. It promises to unleash feelings of joy, relief, love, surprise, pride, curiosity, excitement, awe and wonder, contentment, and creativity (all in 1 minute) and doesn’t disappoint.



The great thing about using Makey Makey is that it favours intuitive, playful and explorative behaviour – you can only really learn what works through physically trying things out. And this was exactly how I got the young people to begin, with 1 x Makey Makey and a laptop between 2 or 3 participants, and using the Quick Start guide . Gradually, and at their own pace, participants realise that they need to source more materials (crocodile clips, carrots, tin foil etc) from the shared Resource Table.

Resource table:

LOTS of crocodile clips / short jumper cables / double-ended test leads
Aluminium Tape, Copper Tape, Insulation tape in different colours
A few boxes of grapes (cut up into small bunches), LOTS of carrots
Small tinfoil pie cases, Rolls of tin foil
Lengths of aluminium tape stuck to cheap blue tarp
Rubber Gloves
Rolls of uncut speaker Cable, More rigid copper wire (from earth core cables)
Coins (2p), Metal washers in different sizes, Bulldog clips in different sizes
Plastic cups (disposable)
Some pre-made cardboard & foil ‘dance pads’
A4 card in different colours
Pencils (and a pencil sharpener), Scissors, Pliers, Wire cutters / strippers

In each of the groups, the young people also worked out that they could use cups of water (empty cups were available on the resource table) to make a range of musical instruments. It was great to see how some very subtle hints or visual / physical prompts like this allowed the groups to make these discoveries throughout the workshop.

The most popular initial ‘tryout’ and testing apps were:



As participants added more complexity to their constructions / controllers, they also made use of some of the games they were more familiar with


After lunch, we start to bring Scratch into the mix. I trialed 3 different activities, all of which use Scratch to a greater or lesser extent:

These guys invented Subbuteo during the workshop (they had never heard of it before) and then built a Scratch game around it that would cheer when one team scored, call half time and keep score.

On the whole, across the different workshops, participants were most into extending the building a (game) controller task (or in some cases a whole new analogue game setup) to use with a Scratch project they built or adapted.


One or two pairs were into the interactive book idea and the obstacle course was the least engaging for participants (and the hardest to monitor / facilitate).


Throughout the process, I called the group together at different points for selected pairs to present their work-in-progress to the rest of the group. It was interesting to watch how ideas and successful elements from previous show-and-tells during the day were being adopted and adapted by each of the pairs. The pairs started to play each other’s games / controllers and this allowed for short attention breaks before going back to their own projects.




Creativity and Innovation
Participants demonstrate creative thinking, construct knowledge, and develop innovative products and processes using Makey Makey technology.

Communication and Collaboration
Participants use digital media and environments to communicate and work collaboratively, to support individual learning and contribute to the learning of others.

Creative Technology Operations and Concepts
Participants understand and use Makey Makey technology systems, learning basic troubleshooting of systems and applications.

Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and Decision Making
Participants use critical thinking skills to plan their work, solve problems and make informed decisions using appropriate digital tools and resources.



Rachel Dobbs is one half of LOW PROFILE, an artist, educator and tinkerer based in Plymouth, UK. Rachel runs workshops for students, arts practitioners and communities in creative approaches to using simple technology like Makey Makeys – contact me for more details.

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