A new tool opens up a variety of creative possibilities for students

makey-makeyTell me if this sounds familiar…

You want to increase student buy-in on a project by designing a challenge with a connection to the “real world.” You want your students to see their work as authentic and not just an academic exercise, but as you brainstorm project ideas with your students, you quickly realize that the things they view as “real” projects require background knowledge that is far beyond their current skills.

When your sixth grade student tells you she wants to create new type of video game controller so that her disabled brother can play video games with her, you might consider all of the concepts of electronics that would have to go into such an invention. You might think about the need to program a microcontroller or concepts such as digital logic or serial communication. You would then feel torn between telling this student to abandon an incredibly motivating, personally engaging project, or encouraging her to press on, knowing that she will almost certainly flounder for weeks before giving up in frustration.

The challenge for many teachers is that there is a gap between the types of real problems that allow students to find authenticity in their learning and the background knowledge and competence required to engage in solving those problems. It reminds me of all the “science labs” I used to do as a student. If we were following a prescribed set of steps toward a predetermined outcome, these labs felt more like a cooking class than real scientific work. But the reason for this was that none of us had enough scientific knowledge to cure a disease or discover a new molecule.

It is precisely this problem that Jay Silver and Eric Rosenbaum of the MIT Media Lab have solved with their invention, the MaKey MaKey.

(Next page: The MaKey MaKey’s potential)