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Sixth-Graders Play a ‘Paper’ Piano

Sixth-Graders Play a ‘Paper’ Piano

Walking into Julie Egbers’ STEAM classroom, you could hear sixth-graders playing over a dozen keyboard renditions of "London Bridge is Falling Down" and "Mary Had a Little Lamb."

But there were no keyboards in sight.

Instead, in front of each Cherokee Elementary student was simply a piece of paper with a hand-drawn pencil sketch of a keyboard. Each student used a Makey Makey circuit kit to transform the hand drawn sketch into a working keyboard. 

The Makey Makey kits are great for teaching open and closed circuits to students by connecting everyday objects (like a piece of paper) to computer programs using a small circuit board, alligator clips and a USB cord. The kits basically turn the hand drawn keyboard into a touchpad that interacts with a computer program that then produces the keyboard sounds. The students learned that the conductive lead/graphite from the pencil helped create multiple closed circuits, allowing them to actually play a ‘paper’ piano.

“Students are learning how to complete a closed circuit and that electricity will only flow through their project if the circuit is closed,” said Egbers, who teaches STEAM at both VanGorden and Cherokee elementary schools. “They also learn that THEY themselves have to be a part of the circuit by touching a wire as they play their piano.” Egbers loves seeing the students’ reactions when she explains how the Makey Makey kits work. Their eyes light up and they say, ‘How cool!’. 

Sixth-grade student Declynn said that putting the project together was a lot of fun. “Sometimes the connections didn’t work, and I liked trying other things to get them to work. It was such a cool project.”

There are hundreds of activities you can do with the kits. In fact, Egbers used the kits with her VanGorden and Cherokee fifth graders to make cardboard remote controllers with Playdoh buttons, which they hooked up to computers to play self-coded video games.

Egbers became interested in Makey Makey kits when she began teaching STEAM last year and saw a few boxes of the kits in the classroom closet. She knew she wanted to teach circuits this year, so she started investigating what the kits were and how she could get a class set. Egbers learned about a Wright-Patterson Air Force Base Educational Outreach K-12 Program called ‘Wizards of Wright’. The program works to get engineering tools into the hands of younger students to create interest and exposure to engineering and design. 

“I could not do this project without this program providing class sets of materials,” said Egbers. The ‘Wizards of Wright’ has been a lifesaver!” 

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