Is it Conductive?
What is Conductive?
Makey Makey is a resistive touch board that means it is programmed to sense when an item is conductive. An item that is conductive is a material that allows electrons to flow, while an insulator is a material that does not allow electrons to flow.
The Makey Makey is also programmed to send a signal to your computer when you complete a circuit that you've pressed a computer key. Try using the Makey Makey to be your SPACE key like in this image!
Makey Makey works by alligator clipping into everyday things that have some conductivity. When you hook an alligator clip into a banana and you hold an alligator clip connected to EARTH, you are actually the conductive stuff that closes the circuit and makes Makey Makey work!
But what materials can we use with Makey Makey besides bananas? What does it mean for an item to be conductive? or an insulator? or even a resistor? Let's set up a simple experiment to find out! In this lesson, you will make a conductivity testing board to test items for conductivity; learn that everything in the world is either conductive or an insulator; and start to ideate inventions with everyday stuff you can find in your home.
What You Need to Know...
This activity is our starting point if you are new to creating and building circuits with Makey Makey! So, there is not much background information needed. But, if you are the type of person that really wants to dig in and learn more about the nitty gritty details of circuits and how they work, these other activities are right up your alley…
Getting Started with Makey Makey
Learn about what a circuit is and the basics of electricity and conductivity to build your first paper circuit!
Take what you learned about a simple circuit and extend it by using a Makey Makey with your LED!
Use bananas or any other produce to build circuits and turn them into piano keys using Makey Makey and our free Piano App!
Don’t worry, we will wait right here for you if you want to go and explore!
Tools and Materials
This activity is one of our first projects that requires you to dig in and build something. Though the project itself is straightforward in building your conductivity tester, there are a few tools and materials that you will need...
- Scissors - Used for cutting paper, tape and other things other than your fingers!
- Glue / Glue Stick - We will glue tinfoil to some cardboard, hopefully not our fingers!
- Makey Makey - The tool that makes the magic happen!
- USB Cable - The cable to plug the Makey Makey into your computer!
- Computer with Internet Connection - We will be using an app in Scratch that is shared online!
- Tin Foil- For making the tester pads for our tester and a hat if you so choose
- Cardboard- a piece roughly 10" square, used for the base of our tester
- Alligator Clips (2) - two cables, different colors!
- Ruler (Optional)- For pressing items down on your tester
- Random Items- Items to test if they are conductive or not. Fruits, veggies, toys and office supplies
Need Supplies? Time to Get Resourceful!
Maybe you want to draw on cardboard instead, or use this idea with paints? All awesome ideas and we totally want you to play with the materials you have on hand.
You may have noticed that not all of the materials above are included in our kits! That is OK and intentional; we want you to be resourceful and use materials that you can find at home, in the classroom or even out of a dumpster! It’s great to know this ahead of time so we recommend thinking about creating a stockpile of materials when you find them. We recommend holding onto the following materials / items when you find them…
- Breakfast cereal boxes
- Cardboard / shipping boxes
- Cardboard tubes
- Small broken electronic toys
- Tape, stickers, etc.
Building Your Testing Station
FYou have had some hands-on experience with Makey Makey. However, you can use all kinds of items for inventing with Makey Makey! You'll need to do some experimenting to see what items are conductive.
Did you know everything in this world is either a conductor or an insulator? In this lesson, we experiment with all sorts of objects to find out what is conductive so you can start designing your own inventions. Here is a quick example of what your finished experiment will look like.
Software For “Is It Conductive”!
We used a free and web based programming tool called Scratch to build the "Is It Conductive" App. Scratch was created at MIT and both of our inventors (Jay and Eric) were actually on the Scratch team! Scratch is a free online coding playground where you can create your own stories, games, and animations with coding blocks.
You will be using our app which is pre-built/programmed by us! If it is your first time to look at Scratch and are curious about how it works and use it with your Makey Makey to create cool games, animations and other applications check out our tutorial on using Scratch and Makey Makey!
If you dive into Scratch, we can't wait to see your projects play out! Watch our Coding Makey Makey Key presses video to create alongside Colleen. Then spend some time looking over the rest of this lesson and create your own Scratch project. You can tell a story, make an animation, or code a poster in your room to speak! If you want to do something we don't cover in this lesson, head over to the great Scratch tutorials to help you get started creating stories, animations, and sound effects.
Let's Test Things!
Test an item by laying it across the conductive tape traces. If it is conductive, the game will tell you! Sometimes, it helps to use a plastic ruler to press down on the item so you don't accidentally set off the conductive radar with your hands!
Take each item and place it so that it spans both pieces of tape. If the item is conductive it will close the circuit and trigger Makey Makey to make the keypress in the app. When that keypress is triggered you will get an amazing surprise of audio / visual excellence to let you know that the item is conductive.
Now that you know how it works, go around your house, classroom or yard collecting items that you want to test their conductivity. What is the surprising thing that you found is conductive?
It is important to note that electrons are lazy and if they find an easier way to close the loop, you will short your circuit and your LED won't light up! So this means if you are having trouble lighting an LED with this simple circuit template, you should check:
- Does the positive circuit trace (conductive tape) ever come in contact with the negative circuit trace? - Make sure to leave a gap under your LED.
- Do the circuit traces (your conductive tape) accidentally touch where you've made your battery connections? - Double check that you aren't shorting the circuit at the battery!
- Is your LED connected correctly? - Try flipping it around or checking the polarity with the coin cell battery.
- Is your battery dead? - This happens! Make sure your LED lights up with just the battery itself before adding the battery to the circuit.
Going to the Next Level!
Now that you know how to craft a circuit and how to test items with Makey Makey, you can start building your own inventions! When we learn how things work so we can make new things, we call this Invention Literacy. Makey Makey was created to help you see the world as a construction kit! One of the coolest things about Makey Makey is you can use it to prototype new inventions and ideas. What is a prototype? It's like a rough draft of an invention. Since you can use everyday items from around the house to create inventions, Makey Makey is a great way to make a rough draft of an invention idea! Each draft of your invention is called an iteration. Here are a few ideas and other projects that can help you iterate on this project and bring your ideas to the prototype stage...
- Blackout Poetry - Creating Black Out poetry with Scratch and Makey makey!
- Interactive Poster - Create a poster that responds to you touching it!
- Fraction Generator - Create your own device to measure how full a measuring cup is when you poor water into it!
Once you've crafted a circuit, it's time to take your newly found super power and tackle some other challenges that use the Makey Makey. For starters check out these other lessons and projects.
Craft and Code Projects
Build your own game tilt based controller with Makey Makey and a yogurt cup. Test it out with our Etch-a-Sketch App!
Draw your own playable instrument, connect Makey Makey to your drawings, and jam out with this Activity.
We take the popular nail and thread art to the next level to make it interactive using the Makey Makey!