The Home Makerspace: The Museum Display (Dioramas To Win the Science Fair)

Here’s a cool project that takes an old standby, the diorama, and adds a little Maker flair to it.  The diorama incorporates a MakeyMakey, laptop and Scratch programming environments to turn a stand alone display into something interactive and easily modified.  I developed this project for my school’s eSTEAM Fair (environmental, science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics).  It was a huge hit with parents and kids alike.

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This summer I repeated the project with pretty cool results with my two sons.  Let me take you along for the ride!

The Museum Display

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The Museum Display project requires:

1) Diorama – Make this anyway you wish.  We made ours using a sheet of cardboard & painted backdrops.  The cool creatures in the foreground were made with ShrinkyDinks.  They are all dinosaurs because dinos.

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2) MakeyMakey – a fantastic platform for prototyping neat projects and completely reusable.

3) Scratch – Scratch is a visual programming language which has several great features for the burgeoning maker: it’s free, browser-based, and has an active community base of both adults and kids.

3) A laptop/tablet/computer with built in microphone. Most laptops equipped with webcams will have this capability automatically.

4) Conductive materials and alligator clip leads – to connect the MakeyMakey to the Machine.

 

Setting Up The MakeyMakey

 

The MakeyMakey works by translating the completion of a circuit – such as two wires touching or a light switch flipping on – into a keystroke which can be read by any computer as long as the EARTH and KEY parts of the MakeyMakey are connected by a conductive material.  We used nuts and alligator clip leads in our diorama to hook it up to the MakeyMakey.

1)  Glue the nuts to the diorama at appropriate spots.  We decided to talk about dinosaurs, so we stuck the nuts next to dinosaurs.

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2)  Connect one nut to the EARTH section of the MakeyMakey with an alligator lead.

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3)  Connect each other nut to a KEY section of the MakeyMakey with alligator leads.

4)  Plug the MakeyMakey into the computer.

 

Really, it’s that simple.

 Setting Up Scratch

 Next, we need to get those keystrokes to mean something.  We need a programming language.   Scratch is a great choice.  It’s quick to learn, and it can incorporate media pretty quickly.  It’s available online and offline as a download. Both versions work for this project. Scratch Jr, a simpler version of Scratch for younger audiences, does not connect the same way.  If we didn’t want to incorporate Scratch, we could use something like Microsoft Powerpoint or LibreOffice Impress.   

 1) Open Scratch.

2) Open the Events Commands tab, then drag over When ____ Key Is Pressed” into the workspace.  Change the Key to the key you want to trigger.

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3) Open the Sounds Commands tab, then drag the “Play ________ Until Done” block into the workspace then connect it to the proper Event block.

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4)  Click on the Sounds Tab.  The Microphone button allows you to record new sounds.  Click on the button, then click the Recording Button.  Record whatever you need.  We recorded some facts about each individual dinosaur.

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5) Click the Sprite Tab, then change the recording in the “Play __________ Until Done” command in your program.

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Ok, not as simple as setting up the MakeyMakey, but still pretty quick and easy.

 

Testing the Circuit

 

Now test the completion of the circuit.   Just touch your EARTH nut (the ground) to a nut attached to a dinosaur.  You should hear a recorded message.  Test each connection and debug as necessary.

Debugging:

If your circuit didn’t work:

  • Check the connection between the nut and alligator lead. 
  • Check the alligator lead to make sure the wire hasn’t frayed, broken off or some other thing which would break your connection.
  • Check the connection between the MakeyMakey and the alligator lead.
  • Check the USB cable.
  • Pray to the electrical gods, because, man, I hate debugging electronics.  Try a woodworking project instead.

 

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