The MakeyMakey is one of my favorite tools in the classroom. It is a natural building block in out programming with Scratch unit, and the interactive nature of it is extremely engaging to the students (and me, to be honest!). MakeyMakey gives us the ability to connect physical objects to our computer and use them to control and interact with our programs.
This year, as I was revising my MakeyMakey unit, I was inspired by the MakeyMakey post about creating giant floor pianos. In particular, the comment at the end about creating a portable one caught my eye. While I love the idea of the giant piano, I don’t want it permanently taking up space in my classroom. Storage space is limited. I also liked the idea of being able to take it with me to workshops and conferences easily. I had a free weekend, why not do some experimenting?
I decided to try the yoga mat idea mentioned in the original post. Five Below had yoga mats for $5.00, so I scooped up two of them. From there, I headed to Lowes. Many of the tutorials I had seen previously called for aluminum foil to be glued down to make the keys. While this is an easy way to create conductive keys, I had always worried about the foil tearing, particularly for something getting as much use as a piano would. The tutorial linked above gave me a new material to consider as an alternative – aluminum HVAC tape! What a great idea! It’s inexpensive, comes in large rolls, is sturdier than most aluminum foil, and comes backed with adhesive. What’s not to love? The only caveat to be aware of when using it is that the adhesive is generally non-conductive, so avoid connecting things underneath the tape unless you have tested it first.
Once I got home with my supplies, it was time to get to work. Upon unrolling the mat, I realized it was much larger than the piano I had in mind. In fact, it was large enough that if I cut the mat in half, I would have enough material for TWO pianos. It also meant that if I messed up on the first attempt, I had a backup piece to improve upon. Simple decision! Scissors deployed, I cut the mat into two equal pieces and set one piece aside for later.
Next, I cut strips of the HVAC tape to size. For this first iteration of the piano, I planned on six piano keys and one longer ground piece. When measuring the piano keys, I wanted them long enough to stretch almost all the way to the bottom, leaving just enough space for the ground tape. I also wanted a little extra at the top to fold over – this would give the alligator clips on the MakeyMakey a stronger connection on both sides of the mat.
The ground tape needed to be longer than the keys. I wanted it to stretch across the bottom of the mat, but also to turn and run up the side so that all of the alligator clips could be connected at the top of the mat. The trickiest part of laying the ground was making the elbow bend to change the direction of the tape. One thing I learned while making the piano is that the HVAC tape has a tendency to curl up on itself if you remove all of the backing at once. When that happens, it ends up sticking to itself and becoming a hot mess. Oops! The solution? Peel back about 2-3 inches of the backing and begin placing your tape. Once you have it positioned where you want it, peel away the rest of the backing slowly, and your tape should adhere right into place. Just gently press down on it afterwards to make sure it has a strong connection to the base material. Make sure to fold the ends of the tape over the back of the mat at the top to make that stronger connection for the alligator clips.
The piano took me about thirty minutes to build the first time. Most of that time was planning out how to best create and assemble it. When I made the second piano, it only took me about fifteen minutes. Once it was completed, I hooked it up to the MakeyMakey to test it. I wrote a short program in Scratch that used the arrow keys, space bar, and ‘a’ key to trigger piano notes. When it is all connected and the program is running, one (socked or bare – no shoes!) foot on the ground and the other touching the keys will complete the circuit and play the notes. The completed piano is fairly durable, rolls up nicely for transport, and is easy to set up and disassemble. Win!
A giant floor piano was the perfect hook to get the kids interested in creating with the MakeyMakey. After having a chance to play the giant version, they then used construction paper and HVAC tape strips to make their own smaller versions. When we made our own mini pianos, we learned that all HVAC tape is not created equal. The first roll of HVAC tape that I got from Lowes was 3M brand. I had also picked up a few rolls of Duck brand a day later to make sure we had enough for 180 students to make their own. While the brands had no noticeable difference in conductivity, the backing on the Duck brand was significantly easier for the students to remove.