How to Make a Human Drum kit

In my Masters of Educational Technology program at Michigan State we had the opportunity to host a Maker Faire. We broke up into groups and each group designed a maker “station”. Our group created a human drum kit and it turned out awesome! I want to share a “how-to” for building a human drum kit.

Purpose: The purpose of this activity is to leverage the power of a Makey Makey and Scratch programming to create a set up where one person in a group is a drummer, and each of the other people in the group are part of the drum kit (snare, cymbals, etc.). When the “drummer” touches the hand of the person connected to the snare wire it will complete the circuit causing the snare sound (in Scratch) to play. If you have a person for each part of the drum kit you will then have a fully operational drum set (made of people).

Materials Needed

  • Makey Makey
  • Several Alligator clips and connecting wires
  • Conductive thread (This has two uses, first it is sewn into the “drummers” head band, second it extends the connections between the Makey Makey and the parts of the drum kit.)
  • Pipe Cleaners (To create the bracelets that parts of the drum kit will wear.)
  • Copper Tape (To wrap around the pipe cleaners, so that the wristbands are conductive.)
  • A computer with working speakers that is running this Scratch Program

For the set up I will be referencing the diagram below. The blue dotted lines represent conductive thread connected to wristbands (pipe cleaners wrapped in copper tape) which must be touching human skin. The red dotted line is conductive thread connected from the “earth” part of the Makey Makey to a headband. The headband had conductive thread woven into it. The thread must be touching the forehead (skin). With the scratch program running on the computer a person only needs to touch the drummer for that instrument to sound. This completes the circuit which sends the signal to the computer.

A special note about the kick drum: You can use a wrist band and a person for the kick drum. We found that it worked better if we attached the blue kick drum wire to copper tape on the floor. Then when the drummer touched it with their bare foot they completed the circuit for the kick drum. This allowed for the kick drum to feel more natural. (You could also connect the blue wire to tin foil and wrap it around the person’s shoe if you didn’t want to go barefoot.)

Human Drum Kit Set up


General Suggestions

Here are a few suggestions after having been through the project. First, tape down the wires. This keeps them much more organized. Second, make sure there are many points of contact for the headband. Third, make sure no wires are touching the headband wire. This unintentionally completes the circuit. Last, make sure that the copper on the wristbands has a good contact with human skin. Without that you can’t complete the circuit.

Below are a few images and videos of the drum kit in action. If you have any questions at all please leave a comment or tweet me and I’d be happy to point you in the right direction.

IMG_0143 IMG_0136 IMG_0131 IMG_0129

Lesson Plan Version 4.0: Networked Learning Revision

For the next revision of my original lesson plan I want to look at how networks (both my own and my students’) can be leveraged to create a higher quality lesson. I want to quickly recap my lesson with it’s revisions. First, students will engage in an inquiry activity where they will do an exploration using this Wolfram Alpha widget. We will then have a group discussion looking at the patterns students noticed in exploring different functions with the widget. I will then transition into the proof of the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus. During this, or immediately following, I will ask students to backchannel, explaining the questions they still have with the proof, a part they understood the best, and how it fits with the activity they just did. I will then move into modeling a couple problems. They will then try some problems in small groups using the mega whiteboards, sharing out solutions with the class when they’re done. Finally, they will have independent work time. The following day we will follow this system for clearing up misconceptions on the assignment. At the end of the week they will write a blog post with the prompt “What kind of inductive and deductive reasoning did you utilize in constructing your understanding of the fundamental theorem of calculus?”


Image credit: 

How I Currently Utilize Networks

The biggest way that my lesson currently uses networks is through their blogs. I can do a better job of making this an effective use of networks (see below), but I will often tweet out quality blog posts to my network and will occasionally get feedback from people in my network. In addition, I knew Wolfram Alpha was a great math and science resource so I explored that and (surprisingly quickly) found a simulation that increased the quality of the lesson. Although I use networks a small amount in this lesson, I think that they can be implemented in a much more effective way that will further enhance the quality of the lesson.

How Networks Could be Better Utilized

I want to focus on two specific aspects of using networks: how can I leverage my network to increase the quality of the lesson, and how can my students use their networks to gain a better understanding of the concept.

One way that I can use my network is to have them look at the backchannel the students do during/after the proof. Let me explain. The backchannel will happen on a Google doc. I won’t change anything in the Google doc (I may leave students comments but I won’t change what they originally wrote). I will then ask specific math teachers that I’ve connected with previously to scan the Google doc and give me feedback on students’ misconceptions. What do they think I need to go back and reteach? Do they have ideas for extending the concepts? What trends do they notice that I should address? I really think this would be a powerful use of my network that would certainly help me increase the quality of follow up instruction on the topic.

Another idea I’d like to explore is connecting with the physics teacher to discuss overlap in our lessons. I know the fundamental theorem has implications in science and I’d like to look at how to leverage that overlap to bring a more real world context to the concept. It might be worth my time to develop a project for the end of the unit in collaboration with him.

I also think that students could leverage their network in creative ways to increase their learning. First, I’m going to have students comment on other students blogs while considering the following questions. How does that student’s understanding of the concept differ from yours? What did he/she leave out that you would put in? What did they explain that you missed? Can you help to give that student a better understanding of the concept and if so, how? This should help each student better construct the knowledge in their own mind as well as help the person whose blog they are commenting on. This idea of explaining and discussing mathematics is especially important for gifted and talented learners to extend their learning beyond a surface level understanding of a topic (Sheffield, 1994, p. xx).

I also want them to tweet out their article using both the hashtag #mathchat and #calcchat asking for feedback on their ideas. Many of them probably won’t get feedback, but the potential for a random person to actually read their post and give feedback will motivate them to do better work.

Last, as an extension for the motivated learner, I’d like them to find a video online over the concept and critically analyze it with questions like “What did the creator do effectively and what did he/she miss?” They will then post the link to their analysis in the comments. This gives students the opportunity to participate and contribute to the conversation in mathematics. This is authentic, motivating (for some students) and will help them deepen their understanding of the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus.


Sheffield, L. J. (1994). The Development of Gifted and Talented Mathematics Students and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Standards. Storrs, CT: The National Research on the Gifted and Talented.

“Yes, but did it work?” & “How are you going to test us on this?”

Yesterday I did this activity in which, using sticky notes, as a class we built a histogram of random data that created a normal distribution. Overall I think that activity went well. It took a bit longer than I anticipated, mainly because it simply takes time for students to find the average of each of  ten sets of ten numbers. Next time I might assign this piece for homework, so that they come to class prepared to creat the histogram.


So we created the histogram and talked about normal data and everything went well. At least, I think…

While reflecting two things occurred to me. First, I began to wonder, did this activity “work”? Did it accomplish what it was set out to do? At first blush it seems that it did. Everything went smooth, students appeared to be engaged, and I’ve put an anchor in their mind that I can draw back to for the rest of the unit. I then realized that there are some lessons/tasks/activities that have results that are not immediately seen or are quite subtle. It may the quiz next week where I see this pay off. It might be tomorrow in class discussions. It might be in four weeks when a kid is reading Time magazine and sees a graph similar to this and thinks “hey, this looks like normal data…” My sincere hope is that it helps them in the rest of the unit and in life, but if it doesn’t help some students then at least I gave them a visual they can relate back to. At least I didn’t begin the unit by saying “Today we are going to learn about z-scores…”. The benefit of some math tasks may not be immediately seen, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be utilized.

The second thought I had was while I was reflecting on a comment a student made during this activity. She asked, “Mr. Cresswell, how would you test us on this?” My response was simply that I wouldn’t test her on this directly, but that the concept we were about to discuss would be valuable. This student seemed to believe that anything that happens in math class should be directly assessed on the test. If it wasn’t going to be or couldn’t be, then why is it happening in class? I suppose I realized many students believed this during my first year of teaching, but occasionally it comes roaring to the front of my brain. Many students believe school is about passing tests and getting good grades. Assessment is viewed as an end, not a means to an end in which they learn and become better thinkers. We need to continue to try to shift this paradigm because, I believe, students will buy into these types of tasks if they’re viewed as a piece of the learning process and not something that is irrelevant because it isn’t going to be tested. (Sorry the wording of that sentence wasn’t great…)

What do you do to to help shift that paradigm?

Making Review Less boring

We are closing out our probability unit and instead of giving my students 30 problems of review to complete in class I designed a “station” activity. The station format idea actually came from a couple colleagues of mine, and it really helps to get kids up and moving. Also, as the title implies, makes review a little less boring.

I wanted to put a creative twist on this so I came up with the following station activity. There entire activity is self contained, meaning that you don’t need our textbook to use it as I designed the problems. You should be able to run it as is, or modify/improve it as you like.

Also, Ted-Ed deserves it’s own paragraph for it’s awesomeness. Now that I’ve actually gone through and used it to flip a lesson (or part of an activity really), I’m really excited about using it next year in my flipped classroom (or even my non-flipped classes)!

In addition, my good friend and colleague Eric Beckman, recorded the activity for me. Here is my reflection, and the activity resources:

Station Reflection

Stations 1 & 2: In these stations students were asked to watch two Ted-Ed lessons the night before (Station 1, station 2). I then used some of the provided questions, and created my own, for them to answer after watching the lessons. I loved that I get great data on their responses and that students can participate in discussions. I can review all student responses, both open ended and multiple choice, as you can see in the screen shot below. I can also give feedback to the open ended questions, and students will be notified when I give that feedback. You can also download all the responses as a CSV file. The discussions centered around the problems seemed really thoughtful, so I was happy with that. The videos also provide a different perspective on the concepts for the students, which I think was helpful for some.

ted ed layout Ted ed feedback

This did however take them more time than I anticipated. I had one student from each group create an account, which took time, and some of the questions were tougher for them then I anticipated. Next time I will have them set up with Ted-Ed accounts when they come to class, and will also likely reduce the number of problems they have to answer. Because some groups took a while, some groups didn’t complete all the stations.

Stations 3-5: These were the basic probability problems. Students did well on these to varying degrees. I could’ve given these problems all as one station, but breaking it into multiple stations broke it up for that students. Sometimes simple things like that make math more approachable for students. It’s also important to have the key available for students so they can get instant feedback if I’m not available.

Station 6: This station asked students to solve two problems and then create two short video lessons using my iPad to explain their solution. Every time I do this I get mixed results, but the good results outweigh the bad. The downside is that students really don’t like doing it so some push back a bit. However, it forces students to take their understanding to the next level. They will learn it better if they are forced to teach it. It makes them take an extra step in understanding, as they don’t want to explain it incorrectly on record, or mess up and have to re record it. I need to do more of this, as the students that really try get a lot out of creating short lessons explaining concepts.

Stations 7 & 8: More practice problems, similar to stations 3-5.

Activity Resources

Station Packet (PDF)                    Station Packet (Pages)                Station Packet (Word) – I make no promises about formatting….

Station Packet Answer Key

Ted-Ed Lesson for Station 1        Ted-Ed Lesson for Station 2        (These are editable, so feel free tow tweak to fit your needs)


It’s the Soft Skills!

This trimester I don’t teach in a flipped classroom. Precalc is done for the year, AP calculus is not flipped, and Algebra II is taught by myself and another teacher and is typically done very traditionally. This being the case, my goal this trimester is to “inject” solid higher level thinking activities into my lessons. Last year when I taught it (the first time) was very traditional (Lecture, assignment, repeat). The catch 22 of this that I haven’t had these students all year. They are coming to me from traditional classrooms and are not familiar with the different format of my classes (mega whiteboards, relaxed deadlines, higher level thinking, collaboration, etc.). I wanted to reflect on a few things that I noticed in the last couple days that I may have taken for granted.


For some reason, in the back of my mind, I just assumed that juniors in high school knew how to collaborate. This is not true. At least it isn’t true for my students. As you can see in the image my class is set up in pods and each day they come to class with a mega whiteboard and a few markers at their pod. (This is to encourage collaboration on “normal” days, not just days in which we have special activities.) Today I gave them an activity to help them discover the connection between combinations, binomial expansion, and Pascal’s triangle. I prefaced the activity with an emphasis on the need to collaborate and to share ideas with each other. I noticed that even the “best” groups struggled with this.

There were several specific problems I noticed. First, students didn’t use the mega whiteboards very often. Even when I explicitly said, “hey, this would be a good problem to do on the board.” Second, there was minimal communication between group members that “got it” and those that were still struggling. Third, there was minimal critique of each others work. for instance if one person had the correct answer, in many case everyone else just copied down the answer.

Tomorrow I will be making a point to talk about the best ways to collaborate. I failed to recognize their lack of skills in this area and I need to do a better job of setting them up for success in the area of collaboration. I also need to continue to try to build a community in which wrong answers are not shunned but are view as just a step in the learning process.

How do you help your students to collaborate more effectively? What do you do to help your students feel like they can share without the fear associated with being wrong?


This is intimately connected to collaboration, but my students ability to communicate mathematics needs improvement. I think the more I help my students with this the better collaboration will be. How can I expect students to collaborate if they can’t communicate the math to each other?


I hope that I’ll continue to see improvement in these areas as the trimester continues. Please give me any ideas that you have to increase students’ ability to communicate and collaborate. I’d love to hear them! Image

“Opening up” Math Class

In an effort to write more I’m going to be posting shorter posts on things that are on mind regarding education and mathematics. Writing helps me process and refine my ideas and I believe it will make me a better educator.

I often think about “opening up” my math class. By “opening up” I mean developing my class in such a way that students have time to explore ideas (preferably ideas that are of interest to them, but also concepts that are in the standards).  In this setting students would be encouraged to do a number of things on a regular basis.

First, they’d be encouraged to explore wrong answers. If a student got an answer wrong they would take time to figure out why, and represent the correct solution in multiple ways (graphing, algebraically, numerically, verbally, etc.). We so often don’t have time for this and don’t value this type of exploration. I think that should change.

Second, they’d be encouraged to take ideas further on their own, in class. A good example is synthetic division vs. long division of polynomials. We always tell students that synthetic division only works in certain situations, but what about that student that wants to know why? How do we support that student? Because if that student is allowed to explore that idea he/she will likely come away with an understanding of polynomials that is far deeper than if I just told him/her the reason. (God forbid the student came up with a reason I hadn’t thought of!)

Third, students would be encouraged to work on meaningful tasks involving mathematics in small groups. These might be “real world” projects or, equally valuable, deep explorations in mathematics. The objective for the group would be not only to solve the problem(s) but to be able to communicate the solution in a meaningful (dare I say visually meaningful and appealing) way.

I do some of this on a small scale in my various classes, but I am quite often up against two major adversaries: the curriculum and time. Although I am up against this, I think that if I “opened up” my class my students would become better thinkers, communicators, and self-motivated learners. In general I think they’d become more mathematically minded and I think it is incredibly valuable to have a society of mathematically minded individuals (more on this in a future post!). I think this is why educators have to be creative, take risks, and embrace technology. That combination, for me, has been powerful in helping me to take what steps I have toward the “open” math class.

If I think of more ways in which math class could be opened up I will be sure to update. Please give me your feedback and ways in which you “open up” your class (math or otherwise)!


“Develop and Sell it” – A (slightly) More Creative Approach to Related Rates

As we moved through the calculus unit on related rates I searched for a way to bring more meaning to the topic and to make it more exciting. Some students were struggling and I wanted a solid review day before the quiz. I came up with this “Develop and Sell it” Activity. Essentially I gave students 4 related rates problems that were as “real world” as I could find. I had students work in groups of two to four and told them that they could only work with their group. They were told that they worked for a firm that worked out related rates problems for companies. Their task was to “develop” the solution and “sell” their reasoning and solution to the company.

Once they had found solutions that each group member agreed to, I assigned each student in the room a number 1-4. Students who received a number 1, for example, then congregated and compared solutions and methods to that problem. This then allowed students to see different perspectives on the same problem and “argue” about whose answer was right. It was a tremendously engaging activity that the students enjoyed and it relied on one important piece: I couldn’t help at all. I didn’t tell them if their answer was right, if their method was correct, or “what I would do in their situation.” They had to rely on their reasoning and justification. Taking myself out of the equation forced students to analyze each other’s work and critique each other’s reasoning. That was the best part of the activity!

In the future I would love to get actual questions from companies and industry. I’ve also considered video questions and other ways to make the problems more authentic.

As usual, any feedback you can give me would greatly appreciated!

(Here is the Pages Version of the Activity)