Thrifting as a Maker

This week I was challenged to again be a maker and re-purpose an item to use with my new Makey Makey kit. After searching through the basement I ran across my brothers old plastic army men. Being a social studies teacher this grabbed my attention right away. I knew I would be able to use them somehow but had not quite come up with an idea.


After a large amount of exploring and playing with my maker, including giving high fives to set off a bell and attaching the Makey Makey to sunglasses, keys and even a glass bottle. I discovered not only was this very fun to do but also only some items will work, specifically only items that conduct electricity. I was originally nervous about this considering my army men were plastic, but after watching some examples on the Makey Makey website I realized I could use aluminum foil to conduct the electricity. As I continued to explore and search for ways to connect my army men figurines to Social Studies I came across a few different map activities. One included making a compass, which seemed like the best choice for a new maker!

With this a new idea I was ready to try it out. Here are the steps I took to successfully make a compass controller using plastic toy army men.First I took 2 popsicle sticks and placed them in a cross to create a base and labeled the directions I would use for the compass.


Next I used aluminum foil and covered the based of the army men to make them conductive of electricity. I then used tape to attach each of the army men to the four edges of the popsicle sticks.


Then I set up the maker board. To do this I used 6 different alligator clips. I attached one to the earth, one to the click key and one to each of the arrow keys. I then connected each of the ends to the corresponding army man. For example the up arrow was attached to the north figure. The down arrow was connected to the south man, the left arrow to West and right arrow to East. The clip for the click button was attached in the center. The only alligator clip not connected to anything is the earth one. The users thumb will touch this to help maneuver the controller.

IMG_0209IMG_0207IMG_0208Once all is in place I pulled up Google Maps. I was then able to use my compass to navigate the map. I used a battlefield to explore on the map as a way to continue the army men theme!

Multimodal Elements: I included an image at each step to help readers recreate my compass as they read along. The images allow people to follow the text, but then match and compare their product with mine to see if they understood what I was saying. It also allows them to visually see each step in case the instructions are unclear to them at any given point. The final video includes a verbal explanation that may help if a person is struggling with actually making the compass work. It also shows what the compass should be capable of at the end.


Jahn, Kristy (2014, May 25) Makey Makey- Map Activity. [Video File] Retrieved from

Makey Makey. (2012). Retrieved 2015, from

Makey Makey and Google Earth. (2104, January 10). Retrieved May 28, 2015,from


One thought on “Thrifting as a Maker

  1. Loved the link you shared with the Makey Makey ideas! The music by food and drink was inspiring, and got me thinking, but the Scratch game controlled by the Makey Makey was even more exciting. I wonder if you had a few students you could challenge to create some sort of basic simulation or game involving some Social Studies vocabulary or concepts, and then challenge students to complete the game with the Makey Makey inputs; perhaps a quiz show 🙂

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