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Accessibility Guide: Teaching Sign Language with Scratch and Makey Makey

Welcome to a new series of guides for making Makey Makey accessible for all! The projects in this series are adapted to work with all students and this particular adaptation will work well for deaf users. Use these tips to trigger animations or GIFS in Scratch with a custom Makey Makey controller!  By creating this project, you'll learn to create a custom GIF in Scratch and trigger GIFs with drawings connected to Makey Makey. Here are two quick ways to get started!

Step One: Craft This

The first step is to draw the words you want to teach others on paper or index cards! It is best to use an artist pencil of 6B or higher, but you can use a regular pencil and draw very thick and dark lines! 

finger touches a written word and an animation signs the word

Often when using a drawing, you’ll have to retrace graphic lines to help with connectivity. You can test your drawing with our piano app. Plus, if you are new to using Makey Makey, you may want to check out this video tutorial for connecting Makey Makey to multiple apps. 

If you are having trouble getting your drawings to be playable, check out this troubleshooting video

To create images for your GIFs, take multiple pictures of the ASL signs you would like to share. 

Upload each picture to remove.bg to magically erase the background! Download each image into one folder so you can easily upload them into Scratch in the next step.



Step Two: Code This

To create a GIF in Scratch, you’ll upload each image as a different backdrop.  

To do this, look for the backdrop area in the lower right hand of your Scratch screen. Then upload as many images as you need to share each ASL sign word. It is helpful to name each backdrop! Example: For coding the “Yes” GIF, we named one backdrop “yes1” and the other “yes2.”

To code each backdrop for different key presses, use the Makey Makey "When key pressed" block and "switch backdrop to __" block. Again, remember to rename each backdrop to make it easier when you start connecting physical components. Also Make sure to add a "wait .4 sec" between each image you want to use for your GIF. You may even place those in a repeat loop to show the sign multiple times. 

To have the image only change when the key is pressed, add a "wait __ seconds" and "switch the backdrop" back to the original image.

Here is a Video for coding backdrops from our “Changing images” guide (we hope to add ASL interpretation shortly.)



Step : Coding a Sprite Costume

Another way to control an image is to upload images as a sprite in Scratch. A sprite is any character you control in your project, but Scratchers often upload many design elements as a sprite.

All you have to do is upload the image you want to trigger as a sprite and all other images as costumes. Then using the Makey Makey extension, you can change the Sprite Costumes with a key press.

Let's say you are teaching your class about character traits, or vocabulary, or anything that a student could act out quickly. You can create a new sprite, and then using the "camera" feature in Scratch, kids can take a picture of an emotion or word, etc. Each new costume can be a word or an idea. Then just have students rename the costume to the image they are creating. Match each key press to the costume and then create your own physical controllers with conductive materials and hook it all up with Makey Makey!

(Note: We hope to add ASL interpretations to this video shortly.)




Step Three: Hook to Makey Makey 

Simply hook up each word to the correct key press, hold EARTH, and users can now learn new signs by touching each word!



Step Four: Play, Share, and Extension Ideas

If you want to take the ideas in this guide further, consider combining  this concept with some of these projects:

This guide was inspired by Rebecca Gratz's student last year for this purpose. Here is the guide we put out for showing how to change images in Scratch



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