Edutopia Summer Professional Development: Making Lessons Come Alive in the Classroom with the Xbox Kinect

By Dan Jones


Today’s guest blogger, Dan Jones, is a middle school social studies and language arts teacher in Mansfield, OH.

Something about movie magic intrigues me. It was fascinating, for instance, to find out that actors in my favorite movies often filmed entire scenes without ever leaving the studio. And when I watch the special effects in a movie, I wish I could use that technology.

So I was blown away when my wife gave me a green-screen system called Yoostar for my birthday — I had no idea this sort of technology was available for the general public. And after playing with my new gift, I realized that it actually had a classroom use: My students could use it to give presentations as if they were at the Great Pyramid, the Taj Mahal, The Eye of London, The Great Wall of China, a farm, the moon, and many other locations.

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Since introducing it to my students, I have found that they are no longer terrified to stand up in front of their peers to do a presentation — they are interested and having fun — and they are amazed that they are able to use this type of technology in school. The students are also more focused, more diligent in finding factual information, and more energized about the material being studied when they know that they are going to use the green screen for their presentations.

Using Yoostar to Teach Social Studies

When my class was studying ancient Egypt, the students were assigned specific topics about ancient Egyptians’ daily life. I divided the class into groups of two so they could present with a partner. The students then typed out the vocabulary for their chapters in large font so that they could hold up the words as they presented in front of the Great Pyramid. (Some of the students even referenced and pointed to the Great Pyramid in the video background as they presented.) Using a similar presentation structure, I had students research the legacy of Rome. The students dressed in togas and wore olive leaf crowns as they presented in front of the Roman Colosseum.

By encouraging the students to dress up for their presentations — they wore hats, beards, and many other accessories — they felt a stronger connection to the content they were presenting, and it also helped them to take more ownership of their projects. They also created flags from the countries they were exploring (and because these students were fourth and fifth graders, they had their speeches written out on the back of the flag they were holding).

The Impact of Technology

Students are impacted beyond measure when classroom technology is keeping up with the technology of the world. I am no longer grading the nervousness of my students, for instance. When they are able to record, re-record, re-record, and re-record until they feel they have a presentation they could be proud of, this allows me to grade the content of the presentation much more accurately.

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