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Last summer I was excited to get my hands on a Makey Makey. I played around with it for a couple days, but it ended up just gathering dust for most of the year. The same goes for a Sphero SPRK.

They were fun to play around with, but they weren't overtly connected to what I was teaching, so I didn't prioritize finding creative ways to integrate them. However, I get the sense that there was some untapped instructional potential in these devices.

Are there lessons and demonstrations using only one Makey Makey or Sphero that can effectively illustrate CS concepts? Moreover, do they have a place in a CS class?

I'm looking mainly for short, self-contained lesson ideas since I only have one of each; a classroom set would necessitate a separate question.

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  • $\begingroup$ I feel this question is quite broad. Could you specify which CS concepts you'd want to illustrate in such a way? $\endgroup$ – ItamarG3 Jun 11 '17 at 9:25
  • $\begingroup$ It feels rather broad, but there is some focus (i.e. I have exactly these 2 devices - what can I teach with them). More background on your other physical computing context would help. $\endgroup$ – Sean Houlihane Jun 11 '17 at 10:41
  • $\begingroup$ @ItamarGreen It is broad, but it is almost inherently so. Part of the question is even identifying if these tools illustrate CS concepts well. I knew it was somewhat open-ended, but I tried to narrow it to short, self-contained lessons at the high-school level. It's hard because I'm asking essentially if something is effective for on-topic CS discussion vis-a-vis its place in the CS classroom. $\endgroup$ – Peter Jun 11 '17 at 15:50
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I'm not sure what grade level you are teaching and what languages you are using in your classes, so I'll just give some general answers.

Since you have one Sphero, you might want to try something like CodeSnaps that would let paired students or even individual students create code for the Sphero using printed blocks. When the code is complete, one device and one Sphero could be used to test the code.

Makey Makeys are more for demonstration of circuits and electronics rather than CS concepts and having only one Makey Makey is very limiting. The CS concepts would be in whatever program the student created that will be controlled by the Makey Makey. One thing that you could do is to have students work on designing a controller for a game they have created. The controller would be hooked up to the Makey Makey once it and the game are complete. This would require that students understand the basics of creating a circuit in order to design their controllers and give them a payoff for creating a game that uses arrow keys and the space bar. If you don't want to get into the "making" part, then perhaps you could just use the Makey Makey hooked up to a presentation computer that students use to demonstrate games they have created. If you are interested in how other educators are using Makey Makeys, there are some great ideas in the Facebook Makey Makey Educators Group.

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I've not used either of those two devices, apart from a brief play with a Sphero, controlled from a phone. Clearly they have a niche, but I'm not sure they are the best choices.

Robotics is obviously a huge subject, and there are plenty of simple robot platfoms available. I think starting simple is maybe best, rather than introducing the control loops and sensor feedback that is presumably present in Sphero. If you have a Sphero, then you should probably be using it as an example of current state-of-the-art for a semi-autonomous robot and explore the evolution of this technology and it's potential applications in 5 to 10 years time. Robot vaccum cleaners, surveilance drone for the elderly, that sort of thing.

MakeyMakey looks like a USB I/O (or input only) faker. In vogue nowadays as a hacking device. In the PC era, this would have been a fairly essential route to interfacing the real world to some software (as we used to with parallel printer ports in the distant past). I feel things have moved on now, and we're either using a Raspberry Pi with GPIO (and some powerful python libraries), of a micro:bit (and micro-python). So to find a MakeyMakey application which fits your course, you might want to look at micro:bit lesson ideas (where none of the sensors or LEDs are necessary). Really, though, I think MakeyMakey's scope is quite limited (unless I misunderstood). You could program it as an arduino - probably the easiest application is for data logging in a science application. Log voltages as a capacitor is charging/discharging, or temperature in a classroom, something along those lines. To keep it self-contained, maybe you'd need to brainstorm around the applications of connecting the real world to the software world again (can you spot that I'm an embedded developer?). You could take it into the security realm (never connect anything to a USB port you care about), but that's a bit of a can of worms...

If these subjects seem like a bad fit for the material you're teaching at the moment, all the more reason to try and incorporate some of it. The rise of very powerful microcontrollers (Cortex-M3 ran doom back in 2005, and is 10x smaller now), and ubiquitous wireless network connections make distributed sensors and actors just as important part of applied computing as online shopping. It's likely that the different areas will appeal to different individuals.

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