Game Controller Design at Lakeway!

By Jeremy Knowlton

WMSI Mobile has been visiting Lakeway School these past few weeks, bringing challenging and fun design opportunities to excited groups of 4th, 5th and 6th graders! This week, we broke out the fruit and circuit boards in an exciting engineering challenge! The missions? Design a fruit piano, and make your own game controller!

 To play the potato, or not the play the potato. That is the question. 

To play the potato, or not the play the potato. That is the question. 

STEM Explorers started the day with a demo: a carrot plugged into some electrical wires. These wires were plugged into a makey makey, which in turn was plugged into a laptop. When a student touched the carrot, the computer played a piano sound. Gasps! What was going on? Somehow the computer knew that students were touching the carrot. We challenged students to be Materials Scientists and test other materials in the room that may cause the computer to play piano notes. 

 Carrot Piano!

Carrot Piano!

With grins and giggles students jumped into experimental design, testing carrots, potatoes, scissors, chairs and noses. 

 Several oranges were sacrificed in the making of this instrument...

Several oranges were sacrificed in the making of this instrument...

After testing, we asked students, based to make hypotheses based on their observations about what was going on. The consensus was that materials which were even a little bit conductive (things that have metal or electrolytes, usually) completed a circuit and that commanded the computer to play a piano key. Cool science!!

 Apparently, noses are very conductive!

Apparently, noses are very conductive!

We then applied this knowledge to the design of video game controllers. We used cardboard, aluminum foil and Scratch games in order to make custom controllers to fit our games! 

 That controller was too big, that controller was too small, but this controller is juuuust right!

That controller was too big, that controller was too small, but this controller is juuuust right!

Soon, students were strumming guitars with aluminum strings, playing Whack-a-mole with conductive hammers, and playing Donkey Kong on classic, home-made nintendo controllers!

All in all, an extraordinary show of creativity! We're excited to see what the 6th graders do next week!

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