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Blue Screen Topographic Maps with iMovie for iPad
I use this activity with my Geography classes — ranging from ages 12-16 years old. First, students create a cardboard topographic map, and then ‘place’ this in the landscape using the Green/Blue Screen feature of iMovie for iPad.
Learning Objective/Intention and Success Criteria
Understanding topography through maps is a key skill in Geography and helps to students to develop map reading skills. A successful project will combine physical model making with blue screen video creation using iMovie for iPad. Combining the tangible, physical model with ‘placement’ in the environment using Blue Screen gives students a sense of scale, site and situation, and brings their project to life through video.
Students begin by creating a cardboard topographic map. I usually create templates for them to use for this based on simplified topographic maps of local hills and mountains.
Once they have created the cardboard model, they colour and label each section.
Then they record video of the model on blue card. This will be the foreground clip. We use blue for this rather than green card, because their cardboard model generally already has green in it to represent the natural landscape and typical colour schemes used on maps.
Next, they film their background clip. We are fortunate that our school is located at the coast, and this provides a great backdrop for projects like this. But, this project works equally well in an open green area too.
They then add their background clip to iMovie, before overlaying the foreground clip with the cardboard model against the blue card using the Green/Blue Screen effect. They can drag the corners of the frame to exclude parts of the foreground clip that they don’t want to show. Then - like magic! — the blue becomes transparent and this creates the illusion that the model has been placed in the landscape. In my example, the cardboard model appears as an island in the sea.
Here are some tips and tricks we’ve learned to do this when using Green/Blue Screen activities in the classroom:
- Make sure that the iPad is still when recording.
- Record in a well-lit area.
- Use strong, bright blue or green card. Matte works better than glossy card as there will be less reflection, which can impact the quality of the blue screen effect.
- Make sure that iPad is steady when recording both videos. Use a tripod, a pile of books or anything you have to keep it from moving.
- It can be difficult to match lighting conditions when recording both the small cardboard model and a larger area like the sea. Try to record both on the same day and, if possible, record the foreground clip of the cardboard model outside facing in the same direction as the background clip.
- Record both videos for approximately the same length of time. This makes editing easier.
- The angle of the camera needs to be similar in both videos to achieve the illusion of ‘placing’ the model as if it is an island in the sea. Record both videos at a few different angles to give more options when editing the video.
- Drag the drag the corners of the frame to exclude parts of the foreground clip that they don’t want to show.
- Drag the Strength slider vary the amount of the green or blue background shown to more more of the background if necessary.
- Mute the video on the foreground clip.
Activities like this help students to better understand and interpret how 3D environments are represented on a flat, two-dimensional map. The cardboard model alone achieves this well, but it is brought to the next level using Green/Blue Screen with iMovie and gives students a better sense of scale, position, and height in relation to sea-level.
Some ways to go further with this activity would be to ask students to:
- Add sound effects and music using GarageBand for iPad. The Toy Box Sound Pack contains lots of environmental sounds that can help to bring the project to life.
- Add a voiceover to explain the topography of your creation.
- Use Keynote to add annotations and animate shapes such as vegetation, wildlife, buildings or traffic (boats, cars, bicycles, etc.)
Or, allow students to choose a form of assessment that suits them and how they want to present their Blue Screen Topographic map projects.
Students really engage with lessons and activities like this. It unleashes their creativity, whilst embedding new skills and helps to make sense subject content and concepts. They are encouraged to engage with their environment and see the links between two-dimensional maps and the topography of the natural landscape.
I use this activity in Geography classes, but Green/Blue Screen activities with iMovie can easily be adapted to other subject areas and across a wide range of age groups.
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