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HS Makey Makey & Design Thinking


Design and innovation teacher Mike Bycraft thinks a lot about accessibility and inclusion. As a result of Poland’s Syndrome, Mr. Bycraft was born with one normally developed hand and one smaller hand with only one finger. Growing up, he loved playing Nintendo – and still does, making the games part of family time too. As a kid, Mr. Bycraft took apart the NES controller to customize a better fit. After that, he started to look differently at objects designed for people with two hands, wondering how he might modify a toy or tool to work for others like himself. His interest in design segued into a career. 

Now he challenges his high school Engineering, Design & Fabrication students to incorporate accessibility into their designs. In 2019, Mr. Bycraft was excited to see Microsoft announce its XBox adaptive controller system. That sparked an idea. Why not toss an adaptive controller project to his class? How else can you interact with a piece of software through different hardware? Mr. Bycraft was excited to see what his students might create using Makey Makey kits.

Makey Makey provides makers with easy-to-use invention kits that allow people to craft and code. Started by two students at the MIT Media Lab, Makey Makey “believe[s] that everyone is creative, inventive, and imaginative” and that “the whole world is a construction kit, if you see it that way.” Mr. Bycraft does. The adaptive controller project was purposefully open for student interpretation. 

Because gaming can be such a social connection for people, adaptive controllers make a big difference. Ashley (grade 10) took hands out of the equation and instead created a helmet that responds to movement. Head tilts control the jump of the dinosaur in Google Chrome’s no wifi game. Other students considered the limiting size of keys or buttons on keyboards and controllers. Ryan (grade 11) echoed the early Mario Brothers game art with a larger controller that uses play doh to conduct electricity and easily recognizes imprecise finger movements. Jenny (grade 12) created a controller that turned a one person game into a two person game, giving two people the ability to play as one character. Think of the cooperation that system promotes.

Projects like this generate more ideas. A specific design – like to use your head or foot to control a game – prompts other considerations. Seojin (grade 12) designed a controller that works with a Scratch music application to play different instruments but she can also imagine voice applications for people who have speech difficulties. Jenny also wonders if Makey Makey can provide a kind of economic accessibility to people too. What if you could experiment with a piece of technology before committing to a purchase by using online apps and your own adapted controller to test a piano keyboard or DJ soundboard?

Now the class turns to solutions for small problems. Among their ideas: ergonomic pet food bowls that keep your pet’s spine safe and clothes hangers that fold open and closed to quickly remove shirts without stretching collars. Chloe (grade 9) believes that the class is helping her stretch her creativity. That’s why she signed up. She likes the personal challenge each project presents. This kind of thinking transfers too. 

KIS’s commitment to applied learning gives students the time, guidance, and resources to explore, collaborate, and invent. Mr. Bycraft wants students to practice relevant problem solving because those experiences prepare them to develop creative solutions to future design and engineering problems. That’s why design thinking happens everyday at KIS.