Parks and Renovation

Art and design student, Giovanni Gonzo was part of a task force that helped renovate a public park in Bolzano, Italy. However, rather than just ‘create’ something nice to look at, he and his team decided to make something innovative and interactive that everyone could enjoy.

Bolzano: the beating heart of Italy’s South Tyrol region. A picturesque town nestled up against the Alps, on the western fringes of the spectacular Dolomite Road. Home to Ötzi the Iceman, Castel Roncolo, and... Soundgarden.

No, not the Seattle-based grunge sensation (!). On the surface, this Soundgarden is a wooden, rectangular planter containing different edible plants -- including basil, coriander, and tomatoes. However, hidden beneath the soil is a small box containing a Makey Makey, a Raspberry Pi 3, and a power bank which transform this deceptively simple park garden feature into an interactive electronic keyboard.

The project was developed by University of Bolzano design students Giovanni Gonzo, Francesca Sannia, and Chiara Perrone, in response to a brief the local government put together to renovate a park -- Parco Pompei -- in the city. The design students were tasked with coming up with something that would encourage local people of all ages to visit the park more often and take better care of it.

“We wanted to create something that anyone could use and feel responsible for, to strengthen the idea that everyone should take care of public areas just like a private property,” explains Giovanni.

After a short analysis of the park, the team decided to focus on four core values: interaction, fun, sharing, and responsibility; and developed some ideas around them.

“It took us about month to come up with the final idea and two weeks to build it,” says Giovanni. “We were helped by the guys working in the university’s metal and wood workshops who taught us how to weld -- among other things.”.

Soundgarden can be played like a keyboard as every plant triggers a sound when touched. There are three stools around the planter; the perfect spot for people to sit and use the Soundgarden together.

On two corners of the planter there are two speakers of varying heights (one for children and the other for adults). Each speaker has metal box on top of it that the user pulls close to their ear. These boxes are actually connected to the Makey Makey’s ‘earth’ wire, meaning that touching them and the plants at the same time completes the circuit -- making the sound audible.

The speakers themselves are connected to the Raspberry Pi 3, which loads a Scratch program when it’s switched on.

“The Scratch app plays different sounds when the Makey Makey keys receive the input,” explains Giovanni. “I used Garageband to record the different notes from a minor pentatonic scale. This way every note always sounds good when played after or on top on another one, and there’s no way anyone could play a ‘bad’ melody.”

Giovanni discovered Makey Makey when looking for a way to produce sounds with plants and saw it as a very good alternative to the standard Arduino.

“Makey Makey’s easy to use, cheap, and ready to go as soon as you unbox it,” he says. “There are a lot of amazing things you can do with it; the potential is huge and it’s a technology that requires very basic IT knowledge.”

The project was on display in Parco Pompei in June, but the city’s administration is now considering making Soundgarden a permanent feature.

“Park visitors were very excited about the project and everyone was having fun making music just touching some plants,” Giovanni says. “Both children and adults learned how to play together producing more complex melodies and trying to reproduce famous songs. A group of three guys also started using the stools as a percussion to play a rhythm that sounded very nice together with the noises from each plant.

“Everyone enjoyed it and it was a big success in my opinion. I really enjoyed using Makey Makey and I’ll definitely use it again in future projects.”

Thanks Giovanni! We eagerly await your next efforts :)

SXSWedu Panel Votes

Jay is on two prospective panels for SXSWedu next year - and they need votes!

Reaching 95% Invention Literacy


Enjoy a casual chat with the co-inventor of Makey Makey (Jay Silver) and Maker Enthusiast/Teacher Librarian (Colleen Graves) about the importance of Invention Literacy as a missing literacy in education. As Jay defines it, "Invention literacy is the ability to read and write human made stuff, from toasters to apps." We believe it is important to teach our students how the world works. In this core convo, we will discuss how to increase invention literacy on your campus by helping students "learn to read and write the world they live in."

The World Needs More Inventors, Starting With Kids


When was the last time you invented something? If you can’t remember, there’s a reason. The world as a whole hasn’t been focused enough on encouraging innovation especially in classrooms. We can’t fix this issue overnight, but we have the resources from Maker Labs, STEM toys , and design workshops to start closing the gap. As world citizens, it’s our responsibility to spark change and make these resources widely accessible to students, educators, parents and more. Join Jay Silver and Danielle Applestone as they have a conversation moderated by Emily Pilloton on how to inspire our diverse world to be more creative and engaged in STEM education.

How to Vote

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We look forward seeing you in Austin next year!

History In The Making

The Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC is best known as ‘America’s attic’ -- a collection of 19 museums and galleries. But it’s also fast becoming a hotbed of maker innovation for the city’s teenagers. Introducing ARTLAB+.

Say ‘Smithsonian‘ and you’ll likely invoke references to such treasure troves as the National Museum of Natural History and the National Air and Space Museum. But nestled in the Hirshhorn Museum’s sunken sculpture garden is a very different space -- ARTLAB+: a tech-focused drop in center that’s increasingly popular with Washington DC teenagers.

ARTLAB+ was set up five years ago as part of a push to create community maker spaces. Today it’s a dedicated place for young people to socialize, learn about digital media, and participate in workshops.

Four times a week some 40 kids from across the city congregate for a couple of hours at this innovative youth program. But unlike other after-school programs, at ARTLAB+ teens have complete access to -- well -- pretty much every piece of cutting edge maker technology you could think of: including Macs, iPads, 3D scanners, 3D printers, game consoles, and Makey Makeys (!).

But there’s something else that ARTLAB+ offers that the kids wouldn’t normally get: mentorship. All of the lab’s mentors are industry pros -- a collection of game designers, 3D designers, photographers, and videographers.

“We don’t just have the equipment, we can actually show kids the best ways of using it. It’s much easier than learning from YouTube!” says Cody Coltharp, ARTLAB+’s 3D mentor. “We champion the HOMAGO process here: informal learning happens through Hanging Out and Messing Around, and eventually leads to Geeking Out! That said we’ve started to run some structured sessions once a week.”

One of the ARTLAB+’s current initiatives is a series of game design workshops in which teens scan themselves in 3D, rig and animate the model, and put their character into a game engine.

With this in mind, it’s odd to think that most kids start out at ARTLAB+ with very little technology experience. The majority quickly cut their teeth building with papercraft projects, before moving onto to more sophisticated software processes; like digital modeling and game design.

Makey Makey is another popular starting block.

“We introduce it when we teach the basics of circuitry and electricity,” says Cody. “But we also see lots of custom game controllers being built using Makey Makeys. We had one teen build one for walking around in the game Terraria and I’ve seen kids make new instruments for Garageband and use them in retro gaming. It all depends on what they’re interested in or what their aims are.”

As part of its mission to champion innovation and collaboration, one of ARTLAB+’s core aims is to be ‘radically inclusive’ -- as accessible as possible to every teen, no matter what their background. While most of the regulars come from traditionally underprivileged neighborhoods, others turn up with their own private drivers.

“It’s pretty rad that this is a place of equality, says Cody. “Everybody plays games together and works on projects together. And we’re getting more and more popular. To stay accessible we’ve started doing some off-site workshops; and to be honest, most schools don’t have the funding to provide the kind of technology we have access to.”

While the team has close partnerships with several schools and libraries in the city, most teens find out about ARTLAB+ through word of mouth. ARTLAB+ also benefits from being part of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the modern and contemporary art museum of the Smithsonian Institution. Cody and the team run game design workshops at the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Indie Arcade events, and have been involved in a variety of events at other museums.

Moving forward, the mentors are keen to grow the city’s program, but ultimately the ambition is to scale the program itself.

“We’d always like more room, more mentors, and more cool toys,” says Cody. “But I’d also love to see what we do packaged up and adopted across the country, to continue its success.”

In terms of recent ARTLAB+ successes, Cody gives the example of a teen who was invited to the first ever White House Maker Faire for her original papercraft dinosaur head, and also recounts another’s effort to make a functioning Ironman mask.

“One day he walked in saying ‘I want to make a dope mask like that’. So he stated with a sketch, made a foam prototype, and eventually developed the metal version.

“But he didn’t stop there: he kept taking what he knew and leveling up, teaching himself about vacuum sealing, circuitry, epoxies.

“The fact he didn’t stop, that he continues to evolve his skillset, that’s what I would consider a success: the ability to inspire lifelong learning.”

For more info on ARTLAB+ please visit their website. More photos are available on their flickr and Facebook pages.

Mary Oliver - Morgan Bolender

This is ‪JoyLabz‬ first ever musician sponsorship! Inspired by hearing the lyrics to Mary Oliver we became the Fairy Godparent of Morgan's music video. Our mission of inspiring ‪Creative Confidence totally‬ overlaps.

Here's a sampling of some lyrics (out of order):
- Go on and make yourself a life you don't want to be rescued from
- Do you remember Who you were before they told you Who to be
- I know that it's scary to jump into the wind but what if I told you that the wind opens up your wings
- What are you going to do with your vast and precious life?
- So what's it gonna be? Are you living your life. Or someone else's dreams

Congratulations Morgan Bolender on your amazingly inspiring song. Thanks for letting us be a tiny part of it.
We can't wait to see what you do next!!!

Makey Cakey

Last weekend Makey Maker Justin Rains turned 43 and Cortney Smith baked him this super awesome cherry chip Makey Makey Cake!

Last year Cortney made Raspberry Pi cupcakes (pictured below) - which if circuits boards are any indicator, make a really good combination with a Makey Makey. Though cupcakes and cake might be a bit much.

You can read more about Courtney here on her site, and more about Justin here on his.

If you're interested in wiring and cakes, check out this article from last year: Betty Hacker embeds open hardware electronics into cakes

Happy Birthday, Justin!

Going Bananas at SXSW

Last month we all headed out from our respective hometowns and went to Austin for SXSW Create ("The hardware hacking and maker arm of SXSW")!

The JoyLabz team is spread out all over the country (and world), so once each year we all get together for a cool event. This year, SXSW!

For our booth we ordered 27 plants and wired them all up to create a musical forest. Beth and Dave built this beautiful hand railing for hikers to hold on to while traversing the treacherous terrain. The railing was also hooked up to EARTH so that visitors could complete the circuit in each plant to create a sound.

For those of you who asked what program we were running with the plants, see for the script Beau wrote.

We ran some fun contests for people to win Makey Makeys, including this challenge for people to say "Makey Makey GO" 10x times in 6:00 seconds!

And this one, which no one took advantage of.

There were a couple of other really cool Makey Makey inventions at SXSW Create, including the Thinkery's Rock Band game. Players had to identify which rocks were conductive, and then. . . rock out on them. Pretty great.

We had a really great time. We ate tons of really great food, met tons of really nice people, and saw some really cool stuff. We missed you, Rachel and Jay and Tom!

As the sun was setting on our last day, we managed to find a nice green lawn to take a little family-photo. Thanks, Austin!

Absolute Beginners -- Part 1: The Unraveling

One of our blog’s regular contributors, Brit copywriter, Dave Barton, is a man on a mission: to make sure his kids don’t end up as technically inept as him. So we sent him a Makey Makey to see if he could a) make it work and b) show his kids how to make it work without breaking anything. So far, so good...

26 September 2015. The living room of a 3-bed semi detached house, in Gloucestershire, UK. It’s Noah’s sixth birthday. Unbeknown to him, he’s about to unleash the power of Makey Makey…

Wow! What is it?

It’s a Makey Makey.

What’s a Makey Makey?

It’s a kind of toy that you plug into the computer, and then plug into an object, so that you can control the computer with the object. You can play computer games with it.

What’s an ‘object’?

It’s a ‘thing’.

What kind of thing?


It makes anything into a computer?

Ummm...not really. Well, yes… kind of. It goes into your computer and lets you do different things. So instead of pressing buttons, you can plug the Makey Makey into an orange and use that to make stuff happen on the computer screen.

Why would you use an orange to control a computer?

Cos it’s fun!

Can we do it now?

Not really. It’s 7 am and you have to go to school today. This weekend though, yeah?

5 weeks later… Same location. Noah and his little sister Matilda (4) are poised to use Noah’s Makey Makey for the first time. Dave’s battered Chromebook is ready and waiting.

Is it ready yet?

No Tilda, we need some fruit!

Can’t we have chocolate instead? I’ve been good all day…

Guys! We’re having dinner soon -- the fruit is for the Makey Makey...

How do we put the fruit in the computer?

We have to attach it using special wires. I think.

There’s some stickers in the box it came in.

You can have those later…

Yeah ‘cos it’s mine.

You have to share them with me!

Right -- Matilda, can you get me two oranges please? And Noah, an apple and a banana please.

Dave loads up the Makey Makey website, furiously searching for that piano-input thing he found yesterday.

Here’s some oranges!

No apples left. But I found a kiwi fruit.

That’s fine. Good work team. Now I just need to figure this out...USB goes here… and then…

Five minutes later. Dave has found the Makey Makey How To page and managed to hook up the alligator clips to the console and the various pieces of fruit.

We’re playing drums with a banana! Oh it’s stopped working...

You need to keep your thumb on this (the neutral) clip… see?

Can we eat the fruit afterwards?

‘Course we can… you want a turn now, Matilda?

Do I have to play the drums?

No -- try the piano game instead.

Tilda, keep your thumb on this clip or it won’t work…

Ha! It’s so weird.

But it’s good, yeah??

Can Dave evolve this admittedly limited repertoire? What other materials will the kids want to try out? Will the fruit get eaten? Find out next time...

Lessons They Won’t Forget...

Emerging technologies like 3D printers, robotics, circuitry kits (and Makey Makeys) are fast becoming essential learning resources in every modern classroom. Helping busy teachers and trainees keep pace is no mean feat -- but that’s exactly what the SELF* Design Studio team at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro is dedicated to.
*Student Educator Learning Factory

‘Making learning fun’ is an old adage that either induces a collective groan, or conjures images of Big Bird and co. merrily exploiting the alphabet and numbers 1 thru 10 on uncharacteristically chipper New York City street corners.

But Matt Fisher is a man on a quest to make learning an enjoyable experience; for both teachers and students. Quests are something of a speciality at the SELF Design Studio -- a teacher education lab focused on STEAM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) -- where Matt works as assistant director. In fact they play a central role in the creative learning curve...

The studio is part of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s (UNCG) School of Education. It’s a dedicated makerspace designed to give pre-service teachers access to a variety of emerging technologies and tools -- like Arduinos, 3D printers, littleBits, and Makey Makeys -- providing them with opportunities to experiment with different resources.

“We call it play-testing,” says Matt. “Our aim is to help pre-service teachers understand how to use these amazing new tools -- to boost their confidence and enrich their classroom activities.”

The studio officially opened in Fall 2015 (thanks to a Teacher Quality Partnership grant from the US Department of Education), as both a campus space, teacher’s tool library, and as a way of fostering closer collaboration between the university and local schools.

“In our partner schools we have a lot of very experienced teachers, who often aren’t all that comfortable with technology” Matt explains. “Then we have maker tech-savvy pre-service teachers from UNCG who are looking for local internships. The relationship is mutually beneficial.”

The SELF team also holds regular maker workshops and professional development sessions for local teachers in their schools. But as Matt’s all too aware, a teacher’s time is stretched at the best of times.

“If a teacher is going to integrate technology, it has be meaningful, worthy of their time investment, and easy to use. If they they run into problems right away, you can bet they they’ll give up on it. That’s why we really like the Makey Makey; it’s one of the easiest tools we have. Teachers don’t have to install any drivers or download anything. USB in… Boom, you’re ready to roll.”

Every time a new group visits the studio, Matt and the team start their sessions by showing the Makey Makey intro video, before making ‘Human Bongos’. UNCG’s pre-service teachers can take part in Maker Quests; self-guided workshops in 3D modeling and printing, circuitry, basic tinkering, movie production and editing, (and more).

“We emphasize that the quests are an opportunity to play and experiment,” says Matt. “The connection to the curriculum or subject matter can come after the students understand how the tool works and what it’s limitations are.”

Makey Makey-specific projects include a Holocaust Survival Voice poster where the students linked real audio from holocaust survivors to a poster controlled with a Makey Makey; an ‘About Me’ project for a social studies method class; a Moon Phases Scratch game; a giant circuit board* made by wrapping huge objects in aluminum foil; and a Journey Through the Human Heart -- a project which was shown at a recent teachers’ conference.

“People were really were interested in seeing what they can feasibly create with students that would tie into curriculum; especially in the public school setting where lessons need to be taught in 45-60 minutes,” Matt explains.

Matt and the team also work with a lot of methods classes across the university’s School of Education; such as Writing, English, ESL, Science, Social Studies, Math, Specialized Education Services, and Professions in Deafness courses.

Matt has big plans for the studio; he aims to offer classes to any student across UNCG who is interested in integrating new technologies into their learning.

“The aim here at the SELF studio is to give our students a chance to learn in a way that really speaks to them,” he says. “I had a student say to me recently: ‘This place reminds me of my middle school because I was just so happy there.’ We aim to give students and teachers a similar experience: a chance to experience and create something meaningful with their own hands.”

“When I was in middle school, we had an amazing program in which I made a bench in wood shop, a tool box in metal shop, a skateboard pillow in sewing, and coded my first program in BASIC programming language in computer class. I like to think the SELF studio -- or any makerspace -- is a modern version of that environment.”

Best of luck Matt and co! For a closer look at the SELF Design studio, follow them on Facebook and Twitter. And be sure to check out their other great Makey Makey projects..

Here we are at #uncgmakers summer camps building crazy teamwork games. This is made with Scratch programmimg and a MaKey MaKey.

Posted by UNCG SELF Design Studio on Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Q&A With Makey Makey Jedi Lucas Steuber [Video]

Watch the Q&A with Makey Makey Jedi Lucas Steuber!

Lucas is a Speech/Language Pathologist based in Portland, OR at LanguageCraft, a clinic, think tank, and research and development group where they work on hackcessable assistive technology. He has started Hackcess meet up groups that use Makey Makeys to create specialized interfaces for computers.

Lucas was also on the team that created the app FreeSpeech, an app that lets children compose grammatical English sentences by moving words like building blocks.

Our very own Tom Heck will be interviewing Lucas and other Makey Makey Jedi educators over the coming months to learn more about the ways people are Makey Making in the classroom and beyond.

You can read more about LanguageCraft here, and join in the Q&A at:
2:00pm EST
Thursday April 14th

Here's Lucas now. . .

Help Us Out at NSTA Nashville!

We're going to the National Science Teachers Association Conference, and we need some help at our booth.

Can you volunteer with us for a day?

We'll send you home with a Makey Makey - and if you're a teacher we can cover the cost of your sub for the day.

There are three days where we need help:
- March 31 from 11-6
- April 1 from 9-5
- April 2 from 9-3

The conference is at the Music City Center • 201 Fifth Avenue South • Nashville TN.

If you can help us out at the conference, please get in touch with
Thanks a million!