My fourth grade students have met George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Robert E. Lee. They have traveled from the forest to the desert to the beach in a matter of seconds. How is this possible? Through the magic of green screens.
What are green screens? They are exactly that; a green (or sometimes blue) surface that actors perform in front of, to which digital effects are added. Sorry to burst your bubble, but Chris Hemsworth really can’t fly [Ed. Note- WHAT!?! Lies!], Sandra Bullock really didn’t float through space, and The Great Gatsby wasn’t really filmed in 1920s NYC. Through movie magic, actors can travel to any place imaginable: past, present, or future.
As with any educational technology endeavor, it is critical to understand why you should implement this into your classroom. Do you teach history, science, or language arts? Can you take your students back to the founding of America, shrink your students down to explore an atom, or have them travel to any setting they wish? With a green screen, the answer is yes. You can create a more immersive experience for your students, which in turn will help them to remember the lesson for years to come. Additionally, it becomes a more fun and engaging experience, which is something that all students need.
I would be remiss if I did not share my biggest failure in green screening as a warning. The first time I ever did this was in March. I gave the students a week to prepare before presenting on the Monday, which was the 17th. March 17th is Saint Patrick’s Day. Green is the official color of Saint Patrick’s Day.On camera, students disappeared left and right. My best piece of advice is to remind your students the day before the performance to not wear green.
Before questions arise, no, you do not need a specialized equipment, a great deal of money, or vast array of technical knowledge. Sure, you can go to Amazon or similar sites and purchase an official green screen kit, but that will cost you well over $100. A cheaper and more viable alternative is to use the materials available in your school. Many schools have green rolls of paper. Get a few lengths of this paper and hang it up on the wall or find some bright green paint to paint the wall. (You should probably ask someone before painting a wall.) Personally, I use green cloth from Walmart, purchased for $2.99 a yard. You will also need constant lighting, which overhead lights can provide. You will also need a camera or iPad, some sort of stabilizing stand or tripod (I use a cardboard box that I cut a hole into,) and editing software or an editing app.
There are numerous editing options available. By spending some time searching various options, students can do all of the editing themselves.
If you want a more professional looking video and have ample time, you will need video editing software on your computer. Whichever program you choose, you will need a feature called “chroma key.” This chroma key feature is what allows you to remove the green and replace it with your background image or video. Depending on the level of finesse in your program, you can remove all the green entirely and make your video look very realistic.
Students can do the entire process from start to finish. My students write their scripts on Google Docs, so they can collaborate together. They search the web for their desired background images or videos, and practice performing their lines. On the day of performance, they film themselves in front of the green screen and edit later. I am on hand to help them with the editing, but most editing programs are very intuitive and child-friendly and many of them are able to figure it out by themselves. Literally all I do in the process is press upload to YouTube.
Green screens can add a new level of mystique to presentations and projects. If students know that they can actually interact with historical figures, far away lands, or thousands of years in the future, it gives them more creative control over their learning and heightens their interest. You don’t need a high level of technical knowledge either, with green screen apps and software becoming more user-friendly. If you train your students to do it, you don’t ever need to do the editing!
You don’t need to break the bank either. If you use green rolls of paper or paint a wall, it is virtually free. All the fabric I purchased was less than $20. Editing apps are less than $30. You can make your own tripod out of a box for practically nothing. Aside from the iPad or camera (which you may already have,) you can start green screening for less than $25.
Try it for yourself and make it your own; I promise you will not be disappointed.
Justin Birckbichler is a fourth-grade teacher at Hilda J. Barbour Elementary School in Front Royal, VA. He has been teaching fourth grade since 2013, and also serves on his district’s autism services improvement team and Google Educator Consortium. He earned a Master of Science in Curriculum and Instruction from Western Governors University and is a both a Google Certified Educator: Level 1 and 2 and a Google for Education Certified Trainer. He is a very connected educator, blogging at blog.justinbirckbichler.com, tweeting at @Mr_B_Teacher, and co-hosting the Eduroadtrip podcast. He enjoys a student-led classroom with a high degree of purposeful technology integration, in addition to collaborating with parents to best meet all learning needs.
Justin is also currently showing cancer who is boss and chronicling his journey here.