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I know many of us use INTERACT simulations in the classroom and find that students’ vivid imaginations make the activities realistic and meaningful. Butcher paper, blankets, rearranged desks, and clothing and props from home can create backdrops, walls, dwellings, and objects to be used in the simulation. Students flow along with the idea and allow themselves to be immersed into the action.
Simulations and reenactments are a great active-learning strategy to engage students in historical thinking and advanced reasoning. Students critically read and synthesize information, consider multiple perspectives, and write coherent narratives that demonstrate understanding of the event, the time period, and the people involved.
Recently, some very innovative teachers have been going a step further when conducting simulations and historical reenactments by using green screen technology. For those who may not be familiar with a green screen (sometime also referred to as chroma key composting), it is a special effect in video post-production of layering two images or video streams together into one scene. The colors green or blue are used because they are the hues most remote from the colors in human skin. The most common use of this technology is your local television weather report, in which maps, graphics, and video images are seemingly projected behind the weather reporter. In reality, the reporters are standing in front of a green (or sometimes blue) screen or wall and the images are layered behind from the control room.
Green screen technology can be integrated into many academic subjects, at just about any grade level, in a number of amazing ways. Students can create podcasts or webcasts of endangered animals, news reports on current events, “You Are There” history reports, school announcements, book reviews or interviews with famous people for language arts classes, math applications, and geography video travel brochures. Applying the green screen also opens a number of opportunities to explore technology integration and extend learning beyond what can be done without technology.
Students become invested in their work because they choose the images or videos they feel are most appropriate for their reenactment. They can incorporate multiple images or video to tell their story. The images they select are a tool of the storytelling process, but not the dominant focus of the reenactment. Digital reenactments also provide students with the means to share their research, creativity, and effort with an audience outside the classroom by uploading the reenactment to a podcast site such as Vimeo, YouTube, SchoolTube, TeacherTube, Education World, or an unlisted YouTube account, which provide a layer of privacy.
It might seem like it would take a university degree in video production to pull this off, but surprisingly, it doesn’t. The materials needed are inexpensive and accessible. Green screen kits can run as low as $150, but butcher paper, a green cloth or even painting a wall green will work. Filming equipment can be provided by the school’s media center, a digital camera, tripod, and some lighting. Many teachers use a Flip camera as it is very inexpensive. It’s also a good idea to have a remote microphone near or on the students to ensure a good volume of their voices. Film editing programs such as iMovie, Adobe Premier, Pinnacle Studio, and Visual Communicator are great for merging images and very easy to learn.
There are many resources available online featuring teachers who have successfully used green screen videos in their classroom. Many provide tutorials for helping other teachers implement this technology in the classroom. Here are a few:
If you have experience integrating technology into your classroom, share your ideas either on the comments section under this month’s blog or on our new forum section “How Do You Use Technology in Your Classroom?” As teachers feel more confident integrating technology into their classroom, we hope you’ll share your experiences on Teacher’s Center.
 Cruz, Barbara C. and Murthy, Shalini A. ‘Breathing Live into History: Using Role-Playing to Engage sStudnets.” Social Studies and the Young Learner, 19, no.I (2006): 4-8; McDaniel, Kathryn N. “Four Elements of successful Historical Role-Playing in the Classroom,” The History Teacher 33, no 3(2000) 357-362.
 Sheffield, Caroline C. and Swan, Stephen B. “Digital Reenactments: Using Green Screen Technology to Recreate the Past” Social Education, March/April 2012, pp 92-95.