Lessons Learned from a 20 Dollar Green Screen

by The Bui

GreenScreenTwo years ago, a group of students asked me if they could film a commercial as the final piece of their book report. In my classroom at the time, book reports had two components – a written piece and a performance/product piece. While some students chose to create brochures, trifolds or dioramas, this particular group wanted to create a commercial to advertise their book. They also asked if it was possible to do special effects like special backgrounds and sound effects and without hesitation, I said “Of course” with zero idea on whether it could be done or not.  Twenty dollars later, a 6’x9’ green screen, courtesy of Amazon, was set up in my classroom and “Room 32 Productions” was born.

Since that day, we have filmed countless infomercials, commercials, news broadcasts, talk shows, documentaries, sequels and prequels and many more. From these projects, I have learned many lessons about my students as well as what it meant to be a teacher for the gifted and talented.

The first lesson I learned was that when students are given the opportunity for novelty they will motivate themselves. They become more willing to read text that just a little more rigorous, spend more time asking and answering complex questions, and write and revise whatever they need to. They will do this because they know that in the end, they will get to use that knowledge to pitch, script and then film something entirely original. The filming process itself is full of lessons on how to work independently but also collaboratively, improvising and problem solving.

Allowing my students to create these learning products allowed them to showcase a wide range of gifts and talents which taught me a second valuable lesson: Students must be given the opportunity to explore and exercise a range of gifts and talents, in addition to intellectual abilities. Year after year, I have asked students why they think they are gifted and student after student have said statements like, “I am good at math” or “I am good at language arts”. There is no mention of any other sort of gifts or talents and it is a terrible shame. It is imperative that students are given opportunities to showcase other dimensions their abilities in areas such as performance and visual arts, creativity and leadership because giftedness is more than just intellectual aptitude and high achievement.

For teachers looking to incorporate elements of novelty and media into their classroom, I highly recommend starting out by having students analyze commercials and infomercials for patterns and structure. In my classroom, we compared and connected elements of modern day advertisements to the classical elements of debate such as ethos, pathos and logos. Doing this allowed students to not only learn about Aristotle and the classics, but it also provided students with a criteria for their product. Every commercial or infomercial must appeal to the audiences’ logic (logos), emotion (pathos) and trust (logos). Have students practice in the classroom by having them sell their book at the end of the next book report, or dioramas that they created for history or science fair projects.

Other ideas include:

  • Hosting a talk show to interview characters from a book
  • Recreate famous scenes from history
  • Reporting a historical event as breaking news
  • Deliver a weather forecast after a study on weather
  • Script and act out a trailer to either a sequel or prequel to story
  • Create a prologue or epilogue to a story

Many of these ideas actually do not even require the use of a green screen. It can be done with a simple camera but I never would have considered these ideas at all if I had never taken a chance on a green screen.  Also, I have found that simply being in front of a camera also has the same impact on motivation as a green screen.

But if you feel that you are ready to take your students to a new level of novelty, consider buying one and trying it out. There are plenty of tutorials available online and if you have a macbook with iMovie, which I happen to have, the whole process can be done in as little as 3 steps. But regardless of whether you ever get to the screen or not, students must still be given the chance to do more with their gifts and talents. Otherwise, they will go through school with a gifted identity based on their aptitude in math and/or language arts.

BuiPicAbout the author: The Bui teaches 7/8th Grade at the Edison Academy and is District GATE Trainer OMSD.





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green screen image by Jared Tarbell