Monday, June 23, 2014

Creating Computer Games with MaKey MaKey and Scratch

Last week, I took advantage of two newer additions to my library district's programming supplies to offer a school-age STEAM maker program. I had sent to my branch one of our mobile computer labs--8 laptops, plus an instructor laptop, so those of us without dedicated program computer lab space can offer computer programs--and a kit of MaKey MaKeys, and a group of 9-12 year olds and I set to creating our own computer games with the added excitement of using the MaKeys to play them. Here's what we did.

Part I: MaKey MaKeys

To get things started, I introduced how circuits work; completing a circuit is key to getting the MaKeys to function properly, so the introduction seemed apt. From there, kids opened their MaKey MaKey kits and we started to attach the alligator clips to the board. With a MaKey MaKey, you can turn anything that will conduct electricity into a computer key. We used paper clips attached to an index card to help keep everything orderly.

Getting the MaKeys set up took a few minutes, but pretty quickly the kids were able to figure out how they could complete their circuits and get their MaKeys to function. They were experimenting with their setups and playing the default MaKey games before I knew it.

Part II: Scratch

After a half hour of MaKey setup and experimentation, we moved on to the portion of the program where we created computer games. We used Scratch--which, I found out during the program, about half of the kids had already used in school programs. Scratch is a free, web-based, visual programming platform created by MIT, and it offers lots of options for creating computer programs at varying levels of complexity.

We set out to create simple maze games in which the player avatar--called a Sprite in Scratch--navigates a pathway using the arrow keys until reaching the end and finishing the game. I had created a sample maze before the program, and I projected the game's scripts onto a blank wall to provide examples of ways to make a maze game. I moved from child to child for about 45 minutes, coaching them on creating their game backdrops; the next steps in their programming; talking about x and y axes; asking questions to help them think about how they could tell the game to do what they want, etc. After trial and error and lots of tinkering with their code scripts, the kids were able to get their games to do what they wanted.

Part III: Playing Scratch Games with MaKey MaKeys

With the Scratch games in working order, the children plugged their MaKey MaKey apparatuses back into their laptops so they could use their paper clip keys to play their games. Several of the kids tried one another's games before their parents rejoined us in the room, at which point it was great to hear the kids explaining what they'd created and to see them guide their parents through playing their games. I heard lots of feedback that the kids would be continuing to experiment with making Scratch games at home.

That's a sign of success for a maker program, if you ask me--kids learn new skills and discover new interests that they'd like to continue to pursue.


  1. Just reading about this makes me want to hyperventilate with terror. Were you already familiar with writing scripts? Would this be the sort of thing a non-computer-geek-book-loving children's librarian could do easily?

    1. The extent of my coding experience was the very basic level HTML in middle school. I didn't find Scratch particularly difficult--it's visual and highly logical, with plenty of room to mess up and tweak. You can also find videos and programs that show you exactly how to make something with Scratch--very helpful!

      I think as long as you fiddled with Scratch before the program, you'd be fine. I fully expected the kids to pick it up more quickly than I did, and they really got the hang for programming and made some cool stuff.

    2. i am an old book loving children's librarian and I have mastered both the makey-makey and scratch. What you need to do is get one, have a kid you trust sit down with you and begin figuring it out together. They LOVE to teach adults something new.

    3. i am an old book loving children's librarian and I have mastered both the makey-makey and scratch. What you need to do is get one, have a kid you trust sit down with you and begin figuring it out together. They LOVE to teach adults something new.

  2. I want to play with a Makey Makey SO BAD!

  3. Thank you for sharing your program! We're getting a set of 10 MaKeyMaKeys at my school next year, and this is giving me some great ideas for introducing them to my students.

  4. Tomorrow i was about to do the same kind of class in France with seven 9 years old boys and girls. I discovered Makey Makey and Scratch a few weeks ago and i'm looking forward for more ! Keep on sharing stuff like this. I will try to share my own experience in a few days. Thank you

  5. Young kids are so mentally sharp these days. Great to see!


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