On Monday we were lucky enough to visit Oaklands Primary School in South London to run the Night Zookeeper project. We had visited the school last year and so were keen to keep the experience fresh and exciting for the children. Therefore we planned an extension to this project which was a little different to our previous visit…
The day had a very special twist, as we introduced our newly acquired MaKey MaKey http://www.makeymakey.com/ for the first time. This product allows you to use everyday objects such as: bananas, sunglasses, water and even human bodies as an alternative keyboard and it works with all computer programmes. We created a Night Zookeeper board game and enabled children to link their physical creations seamlessly with the digital world.
The children began the day by creating their very own Night Zoo animals. They then transferred these animals onto a special board game piece. The children designed the enclosures for their animals and pieced them all together to create a large zoo map. They even had a go at making models of the Night Zookeeper himself. (My arms are obviously a lot longer through children’s eyes!) Each child then uploaded information about their animal, including an image which they had created using our new (not yet available) mobile drawing app. We then introduced the children to the MaKey MaKey and they began to explore its capabilities.
Copper strips were placed onto the board game pieces by the children so that they would become conductors and could connect the computer and the MaKey MaKey together. They also helped to wire the device up to the laptop and made sure that the correct connections were made. As you can see from the video, they were amazed that they could control the actions of the laptop by simply touching the board game pieces they had created.
This was all a huge amount of fun, (can you spot how many times the children say “Cool!” in the video?) but did the addition of the MaKey MaKey actually have an impact on the children’s learning?
Well, from this first trial, it was clear that showing children the wires and electronics behind a technological device is a fantastic way of inspiring them to want to learn more about the insides of a computer, in order to find out how it works. Our CTO Mathieu was inundated with questions from the children, all eager to understand: how else the game could be played? what would happen if they moved the wires? or tried with a different material?
Both the MaKey Makey and the Night Zookeeper project help children understand the principles behind a computer ‘command’. The MaKey Makey, makes explicit the physical relationship between a controller and an outcome: it’s a tactile process which builds a tacit understanding of technology. This relationship is there in other modern technologies but it is often hidden below the surface, so the lesson gets missed. Likewise, the creation of a Night Zookeeper animal for our website, demonstrates to children that their physical creations, stories and concepts can be used as the basis for the content which appears on a computer screen. By fusing content creation and bespoke hardware control, children truly became the creators, rather than simply the consumers, of digital entertainment.