Thrifting Through Algebra

During week two we were asked to play with the maker kit we chose, which for me is the Makey Makey. The most daunting part of this week’s assignment was to go thrift shopping to repurpose an item with the Makey Makey that we could use within our curriculum. Don’t get me wrong I love thrift shopping, but finding something that I could use in my secondary math classroom made me think outside of the box. Once at Goodwill, I was instantly drawn over to a section containing children’s puzzles. I thought, what better way to represent the mathematical process of going through problem solving than putting pieces together to complete a picture.


In my Algebra 1 class, factoring quadratics is a key skill that is very procedural compared to most topics we complete in the class. Once students finally understand how to factor with the a-value equaling one, we quickly move to any a value greater than 1. The “slip-and-slide” method teaches students to multiply the a-value to the c-value (ax^2+bx+c) and rewrite the equation with the a-value now equaling one (x^2+bx+ac), which is what they learned previously. From this step students should be able to factor since they now have the prior knowledge. Once the students have factored they now need to divide the two factored terms by the a-value and simplify. Did I lose you yet? Now you know how students feel the first time they hear about this method. I figured this was my best opportunity to incorporate the Makey Makey into my classroom, and have the students check their work once they have completed each step of the “slip-and-slide” method.

Here are my directions to help student have a hands on approach for factoring.

How to create a Makey Makey Problem Solver Maze:


  • Amazon:
    • Makey Makey Kit
      • Kit Includes: Makey Makey, 7 alligator cables, 1 USB cord, 6 connector wires)
    • Additional Alligator Cables (10 is plenty!)
  • Thrift Store/Dollar Store:
    • 24 piece puzzle
  • From Home:
    • Cardboard (My puzzle box’s lid is meant to complete puzzles on, which is what I used for my project)
    • Aluminum Foil
    • Electrical Tape
    • Scissors
    • Glue (just in case)
    • Paper clips
    • Permanent Marker
    • Program used to design the maze

Now that you have the supplies let’s start making!

Step 1:            Create an equation, or a list of equations, that will create the step-by-step answers for each of your puzzle pieces. This will help you know how big/long you will want your maze to be. I used seven steps for my equation; therefore I want to have seven different “functions” for my maze.

Step 2:            Go to to create your maze. There are pre-built programs that you can remix, use my template that I remixed, or start from scratch. Start by creating a background that serves as your obstacles through your maze, a ball for your sprite (object that moves by Makey Makey commands), and a goal/finish line to let your students know they have completed their task successfully.

*Note: My maze is completed by the maze going down, right, up, right, down, right, and finally down to the goal. Therefore I had to program different keys in order to allow all seven steps to be completed at different times, so I could not reuse controls on the Makey Makey. I decided to reprogram the left arrow to go right, space to go down, a on the back of the Makey Makey to go right, and g on the back of the Makey Makey to go down.) I also programmed my maze to send the ball back to the start position if the student did any part of the problem incorrectly, so that the student can see their mistake, retrace their steps, and try again in order to complete the problem correctly.


IMG_0696Step 3:            Put your puzzle pieces together to map out how you want the pieces/math problem to connect. Once you have these pieces laid out decide if you want two pieces to be connected for an answer, one piece, or multiple pieces. This will help you for when you are completing the circuit for the Makey Makey to move the ball through the maze.

*Note: I only used the outside edge pieces of my puzzle for my first attempt, and wrote on each piece with permanent marker. If multiple pieces were needed in order to check an answer I outlined those pieces in green.


Step 4:            Start making circuits with your puzzle pieces by using electrical tape to connect aluminIMG_0711um foil to the back of the puzzle pieces. For each answer puzzle piece you need to wrap foil from the back around to the front in order to have the students complete the circuit with the ground cable of the Makey Makey. This is where you can get creative on how you want your pieces to connect in order to make a circuit. Do you want all pieces to connect and then complete the circuit? Or do you want one piece at a time to complete a circuit? Again possibilities are endless, but you have to have aluminum foil wrapped to the front so the student can touch it and complete the circuit with the Makey Makey.



Step 5:            Attach a wire or an unfolded paper clip to the cardboard with electrical tape at each piece of the puzzle that you use for the step-by-step equation. For a better connection within my circuits I used electrical tape to place aluminum foil over the wire/paper clip to cover more area when the puzzle piece is placed on the board.


Step 6:           Use the alligator cables to attach to the connector wires or paper clips to the specific functions on the Makey Makey. Since the maze needs to be completed in a specific order, so does our math problem, so be sure to attach the appropriate alligator cables in the order needed to complete the problem and maze.  Don’t forget to use a piece of aluminum foil attached to the earth alligator clip. I labeled my foil with check so the students know that is what is needed to be pressed along with each step found.

Step 7:            Have the students try the problem! If the student successfully completes the problem, then the finish line will tell them, “You did it!” This will let you as the teacher know who is beginning to understand how to factor and who needs more practice.

Screenshot 2016-05-29 22.29.25

Check out this short video to see how it all works together!

With all images and the included video, I hope that you can visually see the explanation of each step.  The Makey Makey, circuit work, and programing can be hard to translate the steps provided and might be easier to use the pictures to continue the explanation.  Since this is a prototype if you have any feedback or questions please feel free to contact me.



5 Comments Add yours

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