Thrifting, Makey Makey and Spanish

I have a confession; I was totally intimidated by the Makey Makey. I didn’t even open the box until a few days ago when it was time to start exploring and figuring out to use it and I had no choice but to dive in. Now that I’m (at least mostly) on the other side of my first prototype, I feel much more confident and have lots of ideas for how I could incorporate the Makey Makey into my classes as a teaching tool. According to Punya Mishra, “The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas” (Teaching Creatively: Teachers as Designers of Technology, Pedagogy and Content), so hopefully I’m on the right track to something innovative and very useful!

In the same video that I referenced above, Mishra discussed the components of creative ideas. They are NEW: Novel (new, surprising, fresh, unusual), Effective (valuable, logical, sensible) and Whole (organic, complex, understandable, well crafted). As I researched, looked at examples and thought about how I could use the Makey Makey in my Spanish and/or U.S. History classes, I tried to keep these adjectives in mind to help me sift through my ideas. At the end of the week, I am proud of what I came up with and excited to improve upon it in the weeks to come as I learn and discover more about the possibilities of the Makey Makey as a teaching and repurposing tool.

As I said, I knew almost nothing about the Makey Makey a few days ago, so I started with the “How to” page on the Makey Makey website. Using that site, along with the printed instructions that came with the Makey Makey, I hooked the Makey Makey up to my computer. I used Google Maps to play around with it and figure out how it worked when hooked up to the computer (i.e. which functions on the Makey Makey corresponded with certain keys/functions on the keyboard). Once I understood how to hook it up and use it, I moved on to looking at examples of how other teachers had used the Makey Makey in their classrooms. I viewed lots of different videos, but the one that mostly inspired my prototype was this video on YouTube (initially found in the Makey Makey gallery). It is called “Makey Makey Prepositions” and appears to be a program that a father designed for his son. The little boy moves his toy to wherever the program instructs and it tells him “good job” when he does it right. If he makes a mistake, it says “try again.” If I could figure how to create a similar program with instructions in Spanish, that would be AWESOME! I am definitely planning to dig deeper into this and find out if this is possible with the resources that I have access to (free on the web) and my VERY basic and minimal knowledge (if that) of computer programming. But if there is a program that I can use to record Spanish audio and set up a simulation type activity similar to this one, the possibilities for teaching/practicing with a tool like that would be endless! And so exciting!!!


Anyway, the first part of our prototyping assignment this week was to do some “thrifting” and look for materials that we could repurpose into classroom/teaching tools using our kits (not everyone chose the Makey Makey). I went to some garage sales but did not make it very far before it started pouring. I already had the idea for this prototype in my mind, and I knew that my kids had some toys in their playroom that I could repurpose for this activity. So I ended up borrowing a Fisher Price Little Person and some Mega Bloks (10 to be exact) to create the board for my activity.

My Prototype and How to Create it on Your Own

In a nutshell, my activity uses the Makey Makey Piano (pictured in screenshot below) as a fun way for students to review and practice location words in Spanish. The game board is connected to the Makey Makey and will play different tones depending on where the “player” is placed.

Screenshot 2015-05-30 22.24.06

These are the steps I followed to set up my activity:

1) To create the board, I used an 8.5″ x 11″ piece of cardstock and divided it into 6 boxes. The left side and center boxes are 3.5″ wide and the right side boxes are 4″ wide. All of the boxes are 4.25″ tall.

2015-05-30 14.30.17

Each section on the game board will represent one location word/phrase in Spanish. You could choose any 6 (six) that you want; the ones I chose are: a la izquierda (to the left), a la derecha (to the right), enfrente de (in front of), detrás de (behind), encima de (on top of) and debajo de (underneath). I made a note card for each phrase in Spanish, which will will be used for the activity.

2) Set up the game board to connect to the Makey Makey. I used folded up pieces of tinfoil and taped them in the formation that is pictured below (left photo). I wrapped the foil over the edge of each box and taped it on the backside of the paper as well, so that the alligator clips would be touching foil on both sides of the paper. The top right box has a different set-up; there is no foil needed there. The photo on the right shows the game board with the blocks on it. In each box, the foil is positioned differently in relation to the blocks.

2015-05-30 15.00.16      2015-05-30 22.35.19

3) Select game pieces. I used 10 (ten) Mega Bloks pieces – 9 (nine) single pieces and 1 (one) long, skinny one, and one Fisher Price Little Person. The colors of the blocks don’t matter; I chose the smallest ones so that they would fit easily on the gameboard. The lower right corner location word is “under;” I used 5 (five) Mega Blok pieces to create a bridge (see photo above) but you could use something different for that one, as long as the player can fit underneath it and you’re able to get foil or some other conductive material underneath it as well (player must touch the foil to play the note on the piano). You could also choose something else for the player. Something similar in size to a Little Person would probably work best, but as long as it fits in the spaces on your game board it will work.


4) Set up game pieces.

a) One of the single Mega Bloks will be used in the top right corner of the game board and the set up for that piece is a bit different from the others. You will need a large coin, piece of foil or other conductive material. I used a coin and secured it to the top of the block using scotch tape. There is a bit of a lip over the edge of the block for the alligator clip to attach to. If you use foil or another material, be sure that there is a way to attach the clip to it.

20150531_001300      20150531_001322

b) Build the bridge out of Mega Bloks (or whatever you chose for the “under” section of the board).

c) Attach the player to the connector wire: I used two quarters for this. The inside of the player I chose was hollow, so I used scotch tape to attach a quarter to the bottom of it so that there was a solid, flat surface for the wire to go up against. Then, I taped the wire to the second quarter.


Be careful to keep the opposite side of the quarter (the one that does not have a wire) as free of tape as possible; this will help with conductivity. Finally, I pinched the wire between the quarters and used tape to secure the wire/quarter to the player. Again, keep the underside of the quarter (the side that will be in contact with the foil) as free of tape as possible for conductivity. It took a few tries for me to get it secure enough that the quarter stayed attached. In the future, I may try using foil since its lighter.

2015-05-30 22.31.00     2015-05-30 22.31.22

Now he’s ready to go!

5) Attach alligator clips to the Makey Makey. You should hook one clip to each of the 4 (four) arrows, SPACE, CLICK and EARTH. At this point, it doesn’t matter which color wire you attach to which place. I chose to attach the white clip to “EARTH” since that one attaches to the player and my player was hooked up to a white connector wire. But it really doesn’t matter as long as you have 7 (seven) wires total, one hooked to each of the places named above on the Makey Makey.

2015-05-30 22.34.51

6) Set up game board.

a) Due to the number of wires going all different directions, I chose to raise my board up a little by placing on a cooling rack (more re-purposing!). The Makey Makey went underneath the rack and the wires ran right up to the board. It worked great! Since the rack was metal (conductive), I put a dish towel between the board and the rack.

b) Set up Mega Bloks on the game board as shown.

c) Store Makey Makey under the rack (or off to the the side if you chose not to use a rack).

2015-05-30 22.38.20     2015-05-30 22.38.29

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7) Attach alligator clips to game board/player.

a) Now is where you choose which wires connect to which places on the game board. I chose to to keep the arrows consistent with what they represented on the game board and piano screen (left arrow clipped to the “to the left” box (top left), up arrow clipped to “in front of” (center left), right arrow clipped to “to the right” (lower left) and down arrow clipped to “behind” (lower center)); SPACE clipped to “on top of” (top right) and CLICK clipped to “underneath” (lower right). You could clip them however you choose, it will just change which notes they play on the piano. Either way, the alligator clips should be well clipped to the foil in their corresponding squares.

b) Clip the alligator clip that is attached to “EARTH” to the open end of the connector wire that is taped to the player.

2015-05-30 22.41.05     2015-05-30 22.44.24     2015-05-30 22.45.03

8) You’re almost ready to play! If you haven’t already, write a note card with each Spanish location phrase on it.

2015-05-30 22.47.44

To explain how to play and demonstrate the activity, I made this short video. I think it explains the concept much better than I could typing it out!

I hope the video was helpful in explaining the concept of my activity and how to play it!

Using this and Similar Activities in the Classroom

This activity would fit well into my curriculum in Spanish I and II, as a way to practice, review or even introduce location words in Spanish. As I mentioned, this is my first prototype. Ideally, I would like to find a program that will allow me to record Spanish directives for students to follow. For example, the program would say “a la derecha” and the student would place the player on the foil to the right of the block. It would also tell them if they were correct or not (in Spanish). I think that would make the connection and purpose of the computer program a little clearer. If it is possible to do this, then the opportunities for using the Makey Makey to teach and/or review concepts in Spanish and many other content areas are endless. I could use this template to give students practice with lots of different concepts – colors, directions, counting, following instructions in Spanish. My mental list is long and I am sure it will be further refined as I become more comfortable using the Makey Makey. I already have some ideas for how I can improve/expand upon this template, even if I don’t have the option of recording audio.

Overall, I am very pleased with my first Makey Makey prototype and I am excited to continue exploring how  I can use this tool to engage students in my Spanish classes.


As with any new program/technology, there is a learning curve for using the Makey Makey. I still have much to learn, but building this prototype definitely forced me to troubleshoot! I think my poor husband taped 12 different videos for me before we got one where the player stayed attached to his wire (it needed to be taped more securely) and all of the tones worked quickly (on the first try) for the video (there was a bit of tape on the bottom of the player that interfered some with his conductivity). In retrospect, foil probably would have worked better for his base since it’s lighter.

Value of Multimodal Elements

I don’t know about you, but I think the photos and video were tremendously helpful in explaining how to set up and use my prototype. Some things are difficult to explain, but if you can see them, they make sense. I actually went back and took more pictures of my set-up because I thought they added so much to my instructions. I looked at a lot of examples and videos, and after many of them I was left thinking, “that’s great, and it looked really cool, but I have NO CLUE how to create something like that myself.” Some instructions would have been really helpful! So I tried to be as detailed as possible in my explanations and use the pictures and videos to demonstrate. In many cases, I was glad I didn’t have to think of an easy-to-follow way to explain something complicated; I could just say “see picture below.”

Thank you for reading, and good luck with your “Maker” endeavors!


Kehoe, Eric. (2014, January 6). Makey Makey prepositions [Video File]. Retrieved from

Koehler, Matthew J. & Mishra, Punya. (2012, March 31). Teaching creatively: Teachers as designers of technology, content and pedagogy [Video File]. Retrieved from

JoyLabz LLC. (2015). Makey Makey quick start guide.


One thought on “Thrifting, Makey Makey and Spanish

  1. Always lead with the confession, nice! I’m really impressed with this first prototype, right down to the extra thought you put into hiding the Makey Makey and giving the entire setup a cleaner look. I would LOVE to know what your students could design if you gave them the tools and challenged them to create their own review games. You might even be able to coordinate the phrases to actual traditional or popular Spanish music! Try playing with this online keyboard and see what you can do 🙂

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