A couple of weeks ago, I organized a workshop based on MaKey MaKey from the 20 children in my daughter’s class in kindergarten. The children were born in 2009, so were around 5 years in age. The plan was to demystify computers by letting them see electronics (the MaKey MaKey kit) and interact with them in fun ways.
This is mostly a step-by-step account of what I did, in the hope it might inspire others.
I started with an overall introduction on computers: “have you seen a computer before?” “can you point me to one?” (I made sure to explain that my smartphone was also a small computer). On the question “what can you do with computers?” I got the expected responses, that is, mostly passive usages such as listening to music (by far the most popular answer), watching movies. Perhaps surprisingly, only one mentioned playing games (this makes sense, since at this age, they are still too clumsy with keyboards; games on tablets work better). A bit disappointingly, a single child mentioned non-passive activities: “looking for cars to rent for the holidays” and “sending letters to people far away” (plus, this was from my own daughter so it didn’t really count).
“Writing letters” was the cue I was hoping for to demonstrate typing letters (they started learning the alphabet just a few month earlier, so they loved it) and how to move “the little arrow” using the “square” (trackpad).
I then showed the (unplugged) MaKey MaKey board, explaining that it was much the same inside the computer. And then I explained that we were going to type letters using… carrots!
At this point, I took a first group of 4 to another room (I had the option to stay in the classroom or in a corridor next to it, but I was concerned that it would draw the attention of too many children). I had the grand plan to demonstrate how to do stuff with bananas, carrots, gummy bears, plasticine, aluminium sheets, wet pieces of paper… Of course, this hit the reality wall after just the first group.
In the end, here is what works in 10-15 mins.
- get the kids to plug the MaKey MaKey into the computer (none tried to force the cable in, to me relief)
- get them to plug a wire into a hole next to the letters on the board (a surprising number of kids tried to plug both ends into nearby holes) and poke it with an alligator clip plugged into the earth of the MaKey MaKey board (it turns out that kids of this age do not have enough strength in their fingers to open the jaws of the alligator clip, so I had to plug the cord myself — in a separate event, I witnessed 6-year olds doing fine with this)
- watch letters appear on the screen
- remove the wire plugged into the letters
- plug 4 alligator clips into the 4 arrows on the board –again, I had to do this myself–; these cords should all be holding semi-rigid wires at their other ends (prepared earlier by myself)
- get the kids to plug the wires into the carrots (I had tried with bananas in another occasion, but carrots are a lot more resistant to pounding by little fists); I was expecting them to struggle with that, the carrots being relatively hard, but they all came out brilliantly
- open the scratch project “MaKey MaKey Piano“; note that you’ll need internet access for this. What sounds trivial in a different context is made harder at kindergarten where such infrastructure is not available. In my case, I opened the web pages at home in advance (simply making a local copy didn’t work). As a backup, I also set up my phone as a wifi hotspot with 3G connection.
- make the kids hold the “earth” wire in one hand, and touch the carrot in the other. Music!
- for this one, gather all 4 kids around a single computer
- get each, except one, to touch a carrot in one hand, and present their other hand with the palm up
- open the drums page by artcopycode; that worked better on Chrome than on Firefox, for some reason
- get the last kid to hold the earth wire and slap alternatively the palm of each of his friends
This was all done in groups of four children, two per computer. Managing all that by myself was very feasible (the teacher was in the classroom with the rest of the class).
The children had lots of fun! The teacher liked it too, although she was not able to see first hand how it worked. As for me, I liked the fact that I managed to teach a couple of simple concepts, let the children enjoy themselves, and teach them it’s OK to tinker with computers. Also, I got to show off as a cool dad to my daughter and her friends!
For more pointers on to computer-related stuff that can be done with kids of all age, check out my github page (in French): Initiation à la programmation pour les enfants.