Anyone who has been to an attraction such as a zoo or aquarium is familiar with the use of green screens in professional photography. The tourists are photographed in front of a large green screen and the backgrounds are replaced by a scene from the park.
For example, there is a peeking giraffe next to my grandson in a picture we recently took at the Knoxville Zoo in Tennessee.
I began considering the possibilities of using such technology in my Spanish classroom a couple of years ago. In our rural area of East Tennessee most of my students do not have the opportunity to travel outside of the state, let alone to a Spanish-speaking country. Placing students on location in foreign countries, taking virtual trips would put an entirely new personalized spin on the ordinary project assignments in my classes. I am certainly not a professional photographer, but we all learn through trial and error. I began looking at how to take pictures with a green screen on the Internet and found relatively inexpensive software called 123VideoMagic, which digitally replaces the background in any picture you take in front of a green screen. This process is actually easier said than done as we soon found out. My students had to use problem-solving techniques as they learned to set up the lighting and discovered the perfect distance between the screen and the subjects for best results.
My first class to try out this technique wanted to go to Pamplona, Spain, to run with the bulls at [the] Los San Fermines Festival. One major problem we ran into was actually to find a large enough space to set up the screen and the lights. Our green screen kit included three photography lights, each of which had to be plugged into an electric outlet somewhere. We finally found the perfect location at the end of our hall in front of the staircase. On the day of the photo shoot my students came dressed as if they were participating in the festival wearing red scarves and white clothes and a variety of tourist attire. We then placed them in position as though they were traveling to Spain on an airplane, in front of the Ave train, in the entrance hall of a hotel, at the running with the bulls, and finally in front of an ambulance. The students had to choose the corresponding pictures on the Internet to be used as backgrounds and then put the pictures together on a slideshow and narrate in Spanish with proper pronunciation. Any imperfections that were found on the pictures had to be touched up.
I have never experienced such excitement in any class I taught in the past 27 years. In the past two years my students have taken virtual green screen trips to Madrid, Spain, where they went on a blind date eating churros y chocolate. They have been bitten by “zombies” in Machu Picchu, Peru. They also visited their pen pals in Zaragoza, Spain, where they had to run to safety from a bull that had escaped the bullring.
Using a green screen is a fabulous way to generate excitement in any class, not only in the foreign language area. News of our green screen soon traveled to our district office and people came to see it, thinking that I had it set up in a corner of my classroom. At my school, teachers in mathematics, special education and marketing have used this technique. My students no longer wait to the last minute to get their projects done, but take time to investigate the culture of the countries they visit to make the results look as realistic as possible. The projects presented in my Spanish II/dual enrollment class at the end of the last school year were of such quality that in some of their presentations I seriously could not tell if the students had been on location or if they were in a green screen picture. Imagine their delight when I inquired if they had really been there. I am very excited about the upcoming school year, as I continue to strive to create an exciting and engaging learning environment in which the students are afforded seemingly limitless opportunities to explore new cultures in the foreign countries we learn about, using our green screen.