Underground Sound

Boston-based mechanical engineering student, Alexandra Thaon, fused her love of live music with her passion for product design and computer science creativity; using Makey Makey to put some of the MBTA’s most prominent musicians firmly on ‘the map’...

Too much choice can be overwhelming, especially when you’re choosing what to major in at college and your heart is split between two subjects.

After a semester in Australia flirting with the idea of switching to computer science, Northeastern University freshman, Alexandra Thaon decided to stick with her original degree choice -- mechanical engineering -- after taking a class in design process; which kick-started her maker talents.

“I’ve always put a lot of effort into making projects creative and visually appealing,” she says. “But I wanted to be able to blend something digital with something more physical, which I was able to do in the design process class.”

The class gave her a chance to create a personal project piece, and after exploring student use of the Massachusetts Bay Transport Authority (MBTA) -- or the “T” as it’s more commonly known -- Alex came up with the idea of creating an interactive musical map, to showcase Boston’s multicultural subterranean music scene.

The final piece is a map of the T’s central section mounted on a large foam core board. Each station is represented by a button. Attached to each button is a thin strip of aluminum foil, which is connected to a Makey Makey via an alligator clip. By holding down the ‘Earth’ button, and pressing a station button, the user plays music recorded at that particular subway station.

“Although my tutor showed me a range of different technologies, like Arduinos, I found that Makey Makey was the most cost efficient and easy to use,” she explains. “Liam from JoyLabz was able to help me bridge the gap between Makey Makey and playing the songs; he suggested using Scratch as a medium through which I could connect different keys to playing different songs.”

During her underground musical adventure, Alex experienced a rich tapestry of music, including: hip-hop, country, jazz, Spanish, pop, and alternative.

“It was interesting to see the interactions that went on between the performers and the public. For example there’s a trombone player at the Back Bay station; an old man approached him suggesting he play a certain jazz song, and was thrilled to hear him play it. The hip-hop scene at Downtown Crossing, on the other hand, attracts many young people, some even join the circle and add their freestyle.”

Although she’s now planning for her second year of study, and another semester overseas, Alex has a few ideas on how her project could to evolve.

“I’d like to develop a screen that would sit above the map; to visually show subway performances,” she says. “It would also be interesting to implement some sort of app or Twitter account that could update which stations have live performers; in order to connect the musicians and provide more of a community.

“The overall response to the project was very positive and interested. A lot of my peers, after telling them about plans to take the project further were keen to give me advice and positive feedback.”

Thanks Alex! We’re really keen to see what else you come up with on your travels.

#makeymakeychat Thurs, 9/15

We had our very first Twitter Chat for educators!

Back on Thursday, September 15th at 9:00pm EST at #makeymakeychat we talked all things Makey Makey.

The chat will was moderated by our friend Darcy Grimes (@DarcyGrimesNC), a makey maker, mountain biker, NC teacher of the year 2012/13, and many other things.

You can see the storify of the chat here.

Makey Makey on Go 8 Bit

The new UK video game show Go 8 Bit premiered this week and included a brief cameo from Jay and Eric as they introduce the Makey Makey used on the show. The producers brought in a cast of real-life video game characters (and Cher) to be a part of the video interactive-human game controller. The two teams played a brief game of Puzzle Bobble before team Susan & Steve busted the last bubble for the win.

If you're in the UK you can stream the full episode here.

We look forward to seeing what other kinds of controllers the Go 8 Bit team makes!

Partnering with igniteCS

We are super excited to partner with Google igniteCS supporting groups of college and university students to make a difference in their local communities through CS mentorship!
Learn more about igniteCS.

Apply Here

We joined igniteCS in a Hangout on Air on Wednesday, August 31 at 2pm PST to discuss our partnership, tools, and best practices teaching CS.

See the video here on YouTube.

Back To School Giveaway

A huge thank you to everyone that invents with their classes!

The buy-one-get-one-free and 123 kit giveaway has ended.

You can reach out to education@joylabz.com for purchase order and education pricing information.

Happy inventing!

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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Thanks to everyone that's voted.
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!