One of my favorite movie scenes ever is when Hogwarts students first learn how to fly in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. As a child myself, I could feel their excitement and apprehension of learning something so new to them.
Today, it’s all about the movies. Well, less about Hollywood movies and flying broomsticks and more about how teachers can use the same technology to unlock the secrets to great learning activities.
Chroma key compositing or green screen is a technique where you replace the background of a video with another one. Green is used because the human skin does not have green pigment so it is easier for the software to identify the main subject of a video and remove only the background. It is used all the time in movies, but also in news-casting, video games, and even photography.
Educators have taken note and started to see the benefits of using the same technology in the classroom. And no, we’re not talking about art or film school teachers!
Here are just some of the reasons why implementing green screen in the classroom is a wonderful idea:
- It’s cheap. If you are looking for an inexpensive way to introduce more technology in your classroom, this is it. It doesn’t take more than green fabric and a recording device. Throw in extra lighting if you need it, but that is optional.
- It’s easier than it seems. Green screen? That is what they use in the movies! Exactly, but did you know that the first time someone used a green screen technique was in 1898? It’s surely evolved since then and you will get the hang of it in no time.
- It works for various activities. This technique is not only for creating videos, as you can also take amazing photos. Plus, it can enhance various activities in all subjects, from STEM to language arts and social sciences.
- It helps boost student engagement. Students can use their imagination to create just about anything, but most importantly, they are encouraged to be proactive while creating videos. As a bonus, videos can be saved to their digital portfolios.
- It’s great for developing tech skills. This can be a strategy for teaching 21st century skills such as media and technology literacy, but also collaboration and critical thinking.
Lights, Camera, Action!
Sometimes the simplest solution is the best solution. We’ve already established that it is a cheap way to use more tech in the classroom and now we will see that it is also pretty easy to do so with a few adjustments. Of course, if there is a budget for supplies, you can buy a chroma key panel (essentially a green screen), some lights, a video projection screen, but you should try the basic options first before investing more time and money. Here are some key steps to follow:
Any cheap green fabric will do, such as a muslin, a wall that is painted green or cardboard. You can order online or look for items at second hard stores. You can create a frame for it out of PVC pipes, or find a wall to hang the fabric. Make sure that it is not wrinkled or stained. Even better, green paper works just as well and it might be much cheaper.
As a bonus tip, you can also use a video projection screen to project a green background on a wall or whiteboard. It might take some adjustments to get the settings right, but it is an option to consider.
Now, as mentioned before, it would be great if you can get some cheap lights for filming. A good example are China balls, which can be found at home furnishing stores. If not, just make sure that there is no source of light behind your background (don’t hang the fabric against a window).
Generally, the best tip is to avoid shadows that are cast on your screen. However, even if the light isn’t so great, instruct your students to get closer to the camera and away from the screen. In this way, you will avoid having shadows appear in the background.
Green is a lovely color, but make sure you and your students are not wearing it while filming. Otherwise, the final video will only show your floating heads (by all means, feel free to use it for Halloween).
In addition, it is also recommended not to wear patterns, jewelry or have unruly hair. The problem with frizzy hair is that when the software tries to replace the green with another background, it won’t be able to properly distinguish the edges of your hair as it needs cleaner lines to do that, so the end result won’t look so great. Just ask your students to tie their hair back.
It is also a good idea to plan the movements. For example, students should try to stand as much as they can inside the green screen area and not move excessively for optimum results.
The recording part should be kept simple. If you are already using tablets at your school, that is great since you can use it for this purpose. Otherwise, use a camera if possible, your phone, or even a laptop. Now, it would be great to have a tripod since holding a camera still for more than a few minutes is hard, but a desk and a few books placed strategically can also do the trick.
Edit your video
The hardest part is over, and now you just have to edit your video. Yes, this might seem a bit intimidating at first, but there are green screen apps that you can download on your phone or install on your laptop and they will do most of the work for you. Plus, you can teach older students to edit the video themselves, so you don’t have to do it each time.
Green screen activities
As we have seen, using green screen in the classroom is not a huge undertaking. What’s more, this technique can be used for any subject, for creating videos or even photos, for assignments, you name it. Here are a few ideas on how teachers can use green screen in their classrooms.
Storytelling is a powerful learning catalyst. Students can recreate entire plots from novels or create their own scripts for a video. In History class, they can deliver presentations in which they appear alongside historical figures, or reenact important events. This is a great way of encouraging students to participate actively, instead of learning in a passive way.
News and weather reports
Presenting the news at least once a week can get students to be more interested in current events or even school events. The weather report segment is a great way to teach students topics such as climate, weather, and much more.
Images for presentations
Instead of using stock images for presentations, students can use green screen to create their own images. They can have a lot of fun creating characters, dressing up as comic book heroes, or hold a presentation about scientists while “appearing” in the same photos as them.
Foreign language lessons
It is much easier to get students excited about learning a foreign language when they familiarize themselves with the culture of a certain country. For example, in French class, each student gets to pick a city and film a mini travel documentary about the city’s history, culture, and cuisine.
Some teachers prefer creating video tutorials in which they add a background. This is useful for online-only classes, but also for creating lessons that are more interactive and fun. For example, a teacher might film themselves talking about the solar system using a background to point out the planets. They can upload videos online or directly to an LMS so students will be able to access them anytime.
Green screen is by no means new technology, but it’s fun and relatively easy to use in the classroom. Going through the aforementioned steps is really all teachers need to do to get started with green screen. While you only need a few supplies and plenty of imagination, it can be incorporated in many activities. Plus, it’s a way to get students more involved and jazz up school presentations for a fraction of the cost of other tech tools.