How to Integrate Green Screens Into Any Classroom

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Green screens, once a staple of any special effects film studio, are now becoming an exciting and realistic addition for any digital classroom. But where to begin?

With a digital camera, a green backdrop, and a simple green-screen app or movie editing software, any student can incorporate this technology into their creative work.Green screen projects are certainly sensible for media arts classrooms, but there are some great applications for core subject areas, as well—especially for those teachers who are fans of project-based learning.

To get you started, I’ve provided you with information about what you’ll need to get started, and a few ideas on how to bring green screen technology into STEM, language arts, history, performance, and physical education spaces.

The Essentials

You really don’t need a fancy camera. A smartphone camera that captures video is plenty. You can also spend a lot of money on a green screen, but this is not necessary—any green surface will do. Some teachers actually paint a wall of their classroom green, or attach a piece of green fabric to a wall or whiteboard.

For software, I recommend using DoInk Green Screen (IOS), Touchcast (IOS, Android), or ChromaKey (Android) as your app. Or, consider iMovie (Mac) or Windows Movie Maker (Windows) for additional editing, if needed. WeVideo is another great video editing app for Chromebooks. Windows Movie Maker, iMovie, and WeVideo all offer green screen (chroma key) handling right in the editing software, although apps like DoInk, ChromaKey, and Touchcast might be easier for younger students.

A student's student travel video about Dia de los Muertos in Mexico. (Rebecca Recco)

And now, onto the projects.

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math)

Animate Scientific Illustrations, Grades 2 to 12: In this colorful project, students can use a green screen and diagrams to illustrate scientific processes. First, students create illustrations of moveable parts of the diagram (think about ways to demonstrate the orbit of planets around the sun), and glue those to dowel rods painted green. Then, using a green screen app, a green screen, and the scientific diagram loaded as the background layer, students can illustrate various processes, from the growth patterns of a flower to the water cycle.

Make Word Problems Come to Life, Grades 4 to 12: Have students use a green screen to act out math word problems visually, such as by having students act out a scenario in which these word problems come to life. For instance, students could recreate the word problem, “Shaquan drove 55 miles in an hour. How many miles could he drive in 36 hours?” could be illustrated using a green screen and actually mapping out the distance on a map, and then using green screen and stock footage to show Shaquan in his new location. Visualizing word problems often helps students translate those words into real concepts—and kids can have a lot of fun coming up with props to demonstrate the various parts of the problems. Bonus: These videos can be used later to teach students how to solve word problems!

Tour Body Systems, Grades 2 to 12: Remember the 1987 movie Innerspace? Students can “tour” the human body by using anatomical diagrams as the background, and props to explain how body systems work. For example, imagine classmates acting as red blood cells, traveling to and from the lungs (shown behind them on a green screen) to pick up oxygen and carry throughout the body and back to the heart.

Demonstrate Laws of Science, Grades 4 to 12: “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.” Many scientific laws are best understood through demonstration, but might not be safe or convenient to demonstrate in a classroom. Why not use a green screen so students can act them out? Thermodynamics, anyone?

History, Language Arts and Foreign Language

Foreign Language Travel Videos, Grades 2 to 12: WIth a green screen, students can illustrate their foreign language skills by narrating travel stock footage in their language of study, almost like they’re a host of a show on the Travel Channel. Incorporate famous tourist destinations and cultural practices for additional social studies coverage!

Reading Fluency, Grades K to 8: Film the pages of a storybook, pausing on each page long enough for a student to read it. Drop the filmed pages of the book into the background, then film the student reading the story. Position the student so the words are still visible, and you’ve got a read-along video, as well!

Video Book Report, Grades 2 to 12: For a more advanced approach to a “green screen story,” students can literally become part of their favorite story or book by dropping illustrations, stock video, or photo backdrops into the background while they offer an oral book reports. They can then discuss or act out their favorite parts of the story, or even interact with story characters (actors) in the setting of the book. (Note: If students bring in imagery from around the internet, always ensure that downloaded videos and photos are free for students to use, and always credit sources!)

Time Travel is (Almost) Possible, Grades 4 to 12: History is full of stories that are perfect for green screen illustrations. Students can travel back in time to interview famous people, or at least actors playing the part. Students could also reenact historic scenes using a green screen and photos of historic backdrops, similar to the foreign language travel videos listed above.

After-School Arts and Sports

Perform With The Stars, Grades 5 to 12: Can you imagine playing onstage with Louis Armstrong or dancing with Anna Pavlova? Using a green screen and stock footage, students can! This is a great way for students to discuss technique and gain performance confidence, and performing in front of an audience is nothing when you’ve already performed with your idol.

You’re the Coach, Grades 5 to 12: Students can explain rules and techniques of sports using footage of an actual game in progress. They can freeze the frame or use slow-motion at certain points to step into the frame and discuss what’s going on. This is also a great way for students to critique their own performance and discuss ways to improve next time.

And Now I Have All These Videos...

Green screens are an exciting way to make learning visible, but also allow teachers to share student work with the public. Once your students are comfortable creating green screen works, consider having a movie showcase at your next family night or open house, where you project the videos onto a screen, or have them queued up on tablets around the classroom. Additionally, you can share entire portfolios of student works with parents by uploading the videos with an app like Seesaw. (Bonus — Seesaw also opens up another line of communication with parents!)

However you use them, green screens are a fun and easy way to engage students in creative learning. Now, let’s get filming.

Rebecca Recco (@beccarecco) is an elementary art teacher in West Virginia.

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