MaKey MaKey Workshop in the Elementary Classroom - Circuits, Conductors, and Insulators - Oh My!

Every year, my kids beg me to put together a SparkFun activity for their classrooms. Ensuring this activity is aligned with academic goals, fun for students, and doable for me is always the challenge - luckily, I was able to recruit help from SparkFun and work with incredibly supportive teachers. This year, I decided to do the "Banana Piano" activity with the MaKey MaKey. Why? It is fun, I could do it, and it aligns with the 4th grade standards and would also be great for the 1st/2nd grade classroom. 

Gathering Materials

We did as much prep work ahead of time to make the workshops run smoothly. Here is what we had:

  • MaKey MaKey Kits: We broke these down and put the individual parts into containers
  • Conductors and Insulators: Part of the lesson is to classify the materials; I just grabbed things I had around the house to get a decent assortment
  • Bananas: A lot
  • PowerPoint: This kept everything moving and provided easy explanations
  • Classification Worksheet: This was for the classification/sorting activity
Makey Makey materials in totes conductors and insulators bananas in basket
MaKey MaKey Kits - only the parts needed for the workshop, separated into containers Assorted conductors and Insulators Bananas - 6 for every group


Conducting the Workshop

For both classes, we followed the outline in this Google Slides presentation. The basic flow went from:

  • Introducing goals (whole group)
  • Assessing current knowledge (whole group) - What do they already know about circuits, conductors, and insulators?
  • Building foundational knowledge (whole group) - This was intended to prepare everyone for the hands-on portion
  • Hands-on (pairs)
  • Review & Clean Up (whole group)
students playing banana pianocache-friend


Reflection & Tips

  • TIP: Alligator clips get messy - To alleviate some of the mess, have students stick the clip in without squeezing it open...then the banana refuse will not get stuck in the teeth. If they do get dirty, check out these tips.
  • TIP: Get help - One of my colleagues was kind enough to help me run this workshop - she made it so much better; in years past, I have had parent volunteers and that worked out wonderfully too.
  • TIP: Integrate video - Video breaks up the workshop a bit and there are plenty of videos that show what a circuit is and what makes something a conductor versus an insulator. There are two links in the presentation, but one requires a BrainPop subscription.
  • REFLECTION: 4th graders are not as scary as I thought they would be. I knew that my son's class had already learned many of these concepts and I was worried they would be bored. Fortunately, the repetition helped clarify some things and they seemed to have fun with the banana piano and classification activity. 
  • REFLECTION: 2nd graders retained more than I gave them credit for from the year prior. My daughter's class is a 1st/2nd grade mix - I was sure that my presentation from the previous year was nothing but a blip on their radar - but they actually remembered quite a bit and were rock-star mentors for the 1st graders. 


Overall, this was a great experience. We spent a couple hours with each class and everyone seemed engaged and mostly on task. This is a great activity to do during class, after school, summer school, or in camps - the presentation slides include a slide with links to all the resources it took to build out this lesson.

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