Yes! My Banana Works! Adventures with the Makey Makey

I started the first lesson of today by taking a bit of a risk. Can I hand over a set of seriously fun toys and actually relate this to something linked to the syllabus? The answer is yes.

I needed to find a way of getting my year 12s to want to understand and write a technical and a user manual. I could give them a scenario to work with OR we could make something wacky with a Makey Makey and write the documentation for that.

There were two things that proved to me that this was a success. Firstly, I’m teaching technical manuals to a group of teenagers at 8.30am when I’m teetering between walking dead and exhaustion-induced homicidal tendencies and we spent the whole hour flitting around the classroom making “oooh!” and “cool!” sounds. And then someone shouted the immortal line “yes! My banana is working!”

I guess by now you either agree with me, or you are totally lost and need to know what the hell I’m talking about. Let me present to you the Makey Makey:

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From the geniuses at MIT, comes a circuit board which allows you to turn any mildly conductive material into a keyboard / mouse click through the clever use of jump leads and crocodile clips.

So what did my year 12s create? Something with computer chips? Using their maths compass for something productive aside from stabbing each other in the ankles? Oh no. The minds of my students are wonderful places. Scary, very geeky, but ultimately the most fertile ground imaginable.

I present the coin-controller (Mario game pad created using coins as the various buttons)

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Second is minecraft high fives (the mind boggles sometimes) – essentially the humans were buttons…

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Then there was Mario-Cart, the banana edition (don’t ask what happens when you click them too hard. Suffice to say, you need a damp cloth on hand.)

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And finally, a flight simulator, entirely controlled by a cup of water. (Seriously, this worked!)
Sadly, they wanted to call it the “joy cup” and this meant that I had to keep a straight face. I deserve a medal for that.

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I’ve tried these with year 9s, 10s and now sixth form just this week and I haven’t seen such productive and creative sessions in ages. They engaged, they created and now they’re really up for creating technical and user manuals for the weird creations they made.

It’s sessions like that that tilt the balance away from homicidal back towards walking dead. But at least the walking dead appreciate BRAINS!

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Tranquility and Technology, an uneasy marriage

I was creating a Prezi for my sixth formers today on the Health & Safety Act and the implications for working with ICT (life doesn’t get more exciting than this!). My final slide was on stress and the precautions that can be taken to prevent or reduce it and I found myself giggling as I wrote it.

The following was written….

Precautions

  • don’t take work home with you
  • switch off your email / phone when out of the office
  • limit your working hours to within the 48 hour EU directive

It appears teaching is bad for you. I do take the idea that emails at home make you more stressed, but I do feel that if its important enough for someone to email me late in the evening or at the weekend, then it’s probably important enough for me to respond, or at least read (My family would disagree). Perhaps that’s me being naive.

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So can my quest to find tranquility work whilst I’m still surgically attached to my iPad? Is PowerPoint ruining my life? Well, I can generally tell how stressed I am by how vivid my dreams are and how linked they are to code. I swear some nights I actually dream in Java.

I baulked at a friend who was considering living without technology for a while. But maybe he had a point. If we are being constantly intruded upon by the very devices that we desire, how can we listen to the chatter that goes on inside our own head? I may be using my iPad to channel some of this chatter outward, but how much am I being distracted by the act of typing, or the TV in the background or the damn PowerPoint that is staring at me from the laptop demanding I finish it.

The path to inner peace may need more charging points at this rate.