Makey Makey Marble Maze and 5th grade


#EvilMakeybook and Marble Mazes

Last year Aaron and I wrote 20 Makey Makey Projects for the Evil Genius. We had so much fun creating all of the projects and finding interesting and whimsical ways to incorporate cardboard low-tech making with Scratch coding and mashing it all together with Makey Makey.

As we wrote the projects, we didn’t really envision it as a book for teachers to use with classes, but this fall, I noticed a tweet from Anne Smith. She created a whole lesson around the engineering design process and our marble maze Makey Makey project! Check out her lesson here.

This gave me the idea to see if my 5th grade team at Mason would be interested in having their students design Makey Makey mazes…..and the answer was YES!

Early this spring, each 5th grade class spent a week in the library learning about Scratch, Makey Makey, and creating marble mazes out of recyclables.

Overview of Week Long Lesson

Day One: Students either created a Makey Makey alarm with Scratch or worked on creating a DIY switch with paper and foil. I changed the lesson up for classes depending on how much Scratch or Makey Makey experience they had.

(Note: the pencil alarm in the video below was designed because a kid in their class actually steals pencils….)

Day Two/Three: Students designed mazes on paper and then began designing a maze with recyclables. The first class stuck to building with straws and made insanely awesome Scratch tricks. The next few classes got more and more inventive with the physical aspects of the maze.

Day Three/Four: On the third day, I taught a mini lesson on creating a roll over switch with foil and a marble. Then I handed out materials for students to begin creating interactive switches Scratch and Makey Makey.

On day four, students were told to get there maze to a finished point and problem solve any Makey Makey interactions by the end of class. Check out this cool trick one of the group of girls figured out:

Day Five: Students had 20 minutes for last minute tweaks and then they were able to share their projects Makerfest style! We invited other classes to come in and play mazes. Students loved sharing their work with others and inspiring the next class to become more and more inventive in their maze making.

Check out all the of their awesome work below:

Making is messy

Just a friendly reminder that everyday was a mess. Make sure you include time for clean up and have the students be a part of the clean up process! Some classes are better about cleaning than others, but it’s an important aspect of life. Making a mess when making is normal, but students need to learn to clean up after. 🙂

Check out other schools making Makey Makey marble mazes!

One of the best things about writing books and sharing projects online is seeing other classes in other states trying out the same project. Check out these other schools makey-makeying mazes!


Cardboard Automata – Simple Machines and Storytelling

Join the (6)

Third grade spent about three weeks last month creating their own cardboard automata! It was a powerful combination of literacy and making. As the students were already studying procedural texts and simple machines, I thought it would be the perfect time to teach them how to make their own cardboard automata.

Prep Work

I printed the automata tutorial from The Tinkering Studio to help students build their simple machines. The teachers requested having the students attempt to create the automata by reading and following the instructions since they just finished studying procedural texts.

As I hadn’t made automata on a massive scale yet, I asked some of my maker friends about the best way to get mutliple frames made for quick automata building. J.E. Johnson ended up cutting them for me on long cardboard he uses when he leads his own automata workshops.

The marvelous Aaron Graves cut many many circle and oval shapes so 3rd grade students could focus on building a machine and not just cutting out shapes. (Even though cutting out shapes is a great activity for another time!)

It took quite a bit longer for students to make their automata than I initially planned. I told teachers we would focus on creating the automata in our first session and then the next week, let students focus on the story telling element. I mistakenly thought it would only take two 45 minutes sessions to build an automata with an amazing creative character on top. It ended up taking two sessions for most students to build the machine. While some students were still tinkering and trying to fix mistakes on their machine during the third week of making!

Even though the machines took quite some time to build, it was a great exercise in simple machines AND storytelling.

As the time progressed, the stories got more and more intricate and interesting. Each class had a different dynamic. Some focused on quirky characters, while others had almost a diorama effect. Check out student work below:

Flat Panel Drawing

On the third week of the activity, I told students to create a flat panel drawing as this was the last week we would be working on our automata. I told Mrs. Schlung that I wished we were making automata twice. One build just to understand how to build it and how the machine works. Then have students make it a second time to add more focus on the storytelling element or character on top. Mrs. Schlung suggested that next year it might be better create an automata earlier in the school year with the two-sided flat drawing, and then later in the year we could build a second one with more character development or story background. (Especially as a way of building skills throughout the year.)

StopMotion Automata

Another idea for extending this project is to create stopmotion videos of the working automata. It’s actually a great way to introduce the concept of stopmotion with elemakers. It’s simpler than a LEGO minifig stop motion (which I did with second grade earlier in the year), but still a fun way to learn how to make your own stop motion animations.

If you decide to make your own cardboard automata, make sure you have plenty of patience, and step back often to let your little learners problem solve on their own. This is a great activity for students to make something and gain independence in figuring out how to get their machine to work.  By the end of three weeks, almost all of the students had a working machine, and lots of kids had great ideas on characters and stories their machines would tell!

Those that didn’t finish, start every library visit with, “Mrs. Graves, can we work on our spinny things?”