It’s March. Bring on the Madness!

The NCAA tournament for men’s and women’s collegiate basketball is underway and the country is swept up in March Madness once again. For three weeks, basketball teams will battle it out on courts across the nation while fans follow the action fervently, keeping track of every result with their brackets.

Oh, those brackets…

Every fan, even those of the casual variety, know what the brackets represent. Not only are they useful for tracking the tournament, but they are often used in office pools where participants fill out the brackets with their predictions. This practice grips the nation every March (and part of April). Productivity comes to a near-standstill as workers sneak away to TV’s and computers showing games on Thursday and Friday afternoons. People obsess over which double-digit seed will make an improbable run or which top seed will cut down the nets.

The creation of brackets can be an exercise with educational purposes as well. There’s always the community building that can occur with students filling out tournament brackets for fun, but the bracket sheet can serve other purposes as well. Below is a list of possible ideas for brackets in your classrooms…

  • Have students create brackets of US Presidents (or any group of historical figures or even literary characters). Weighing accomplishments and failures would allow the students to evaluate the contributions of each President to the growth of the nation.
  • Create a bracket of all the elements. Students would match the elements, determine what could be created with each or just balance the benefits of each before sending one on to the next round.
  • There are plenty of opportunities to incorporate math into the brackets as is. Over the years, an incredible number of statistics have been generated from past tournaments as well as the obscene amount of statistics gathered just to determine this year’s field. Trends, odds, averages, differences, etc. can all be explored throughout the tournament.
  • Geographic comparisons can be made with all the communities represented by the universities in the field or they can be replaced with more exotic locales. Creating profiles of each location that include landscapes, economies, demographics, and other factors considered in geographic analysis could be part of the project.
  • Fill a bracket with plant life in order to breakdown and evaluate biological benefits to ecosystems. The same could be done for almost any living thing. Change the regions to ecosystems with a group of students responsible for putting together each pod.

The possibilities are endless for imagined tournament brackets. Plus, the excitement of the actual tournament can feed into student motivation for these more academic bracket activities. Imagine the excitement in front of a TV at the possibility of another 12-seed beating a 5-seed transferred to your classroom. This could be a lot of fun!

How have you used brackets in your classroom to spice up your curriculum? What other ideas do you have for using tournament brackets with your students? Besides evaluation, what other higher-order thinking skills could be developed through brackets in the classroom?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist and blogger with the eMINTS National Center. His picks for the Final Four are Kentucky, Michigan State, Syracuse, and Ohio State with his Buckeyes finishing on top.