Game-Based Learning

Making Lessons Come Alive in the Classroom with the Xbox Kinect

How one educator uses the popular video game platform to increase student engagement.

June 1, 2011

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.

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.

Using Yoostar to Present "On Location" Across Subjects

The classroom applications for this technology are limitless and can be used in all content areas. If you cover space in your science curriculum, have your students present from the moon. Students can write poetry and read it in a setting that enriches the content of the poem. Your students will look forward to their culminating presentations if they know they are doing an "on location" presentation using movie magic. The students will also remember their presentation for years to come. I bet they will say to you years from now, "Hey, do you remember when we did that green-screen presentation on ancient Egyptian society?" Talk about retention! Students are no longer memorizing curriculum for a test at the end of the chapter, rather, they are engaging in the curriculum being studied, and they are applying information in a way that allows them to store it as long term memory.

Getting Started with Yoostar

Yoostar is available on both the PC and Mac as well as on gaming consoles (Xbox and Playstation 3). The PC and Mac versions cost around $49.99. For that price a teacher will get a green screen, telescoping stand for the screen, Yoostar camera (plus remote), software, and carrying case.

The software comes preloaded with 14 movie scenes and six video backgrounds. Each background looks like a live shot of the location. For example: the trees are blowing in the wind, tourists are walking around in the background, the clouds are moving overhead, birds fly through the scene, and thunder rolls in the background. There are literally hundreds of video backgrounds from which to choose. The backgrounds cost approximately $1.99 each and are about one minute and 30 seconds in length. This allows teachers to tailor their collection of clips to fit their curriculum.

Categories for the backgrounds range from science and technology to landmarks and nature, and students' videos can be uploaded to the Yoostar server where they can be shared with other schools or students. The teacher can also set the videos to private and access them as teaching tools for later years, or use them to help absent students catch up on any material they may have missed.

Specific Advantages of Xbox

As I mentioned before, the Yoostar software is also available on the Xbox and Playstation 3, as well as Mac and PC, though there are some real advantages to using the Xbox. Yoostar on Xbox 360 costs $49.99 and comes with 80 movie scenes preloaded. Due to the technology capabilities of Kinect for the Xbox 360, the green screen is no longer required -- it will automatically put the student into the scene. The voice recognition of Yoostar allows for students to use the game in a school environment. These upgrades are sure to ignite your students' interest in doing classroom presentations.

Many have asked me what some of the cons are when dealing with this piece of technology: Though both the PC/Mac version and the gaming console versions do come with a great deal of enrichment, they do also have their own individual hiccups. The PC/Mac version of Yoostar has required memory and video specs for your computer -- teachers will need to make certain that their computer has more than sufficient dedicated memory to support the video processing.

This tool also requires a quiet space. The built in microphone is rather sensitive and will pick up noise from elsewhere in the room.

The Xbox 360 Kinect can cost anywhere from $299.99 to $399.99 depending on whether you buy the 4GB version or the 250GB version. Also, because many schools do not have Xbox 360 Kinects, it can be difficult to find other schools to connect with. Truly, that -- coupled with the expense -- is about the only draw back that I can find with the Xbox 360 Kinect version of the game.

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