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April 7, 2021

Three Ways Teachers Can Embrace The Madness!

It’s that time of year again. The time of year when everyone seems to be enthralled with college basketball – from the die hard fan who has followed their team all season, to the bandwagon supporter hoping for a Cinderella story. Brackets are being frantically filled out and office pools are the topic of discussion for a few brief weeks. Can you feel it in the air?

Personally, I am not the biggest basketball fan, give me football any day. But even I get excited this time of year. And so did my students. Instead of fighting the sports talk and bracket madness, turn it into a teaching opportunity and if you’re feeling inspired, try blending it. Here are a few ways to do just that.

1. Brackets To Frame Discussion

In 2010, The New York Times Learning Network published an article on how to use the bracket format to debate academic questions. What I love about this article is that it gives suggestions for debatable topics in multiple subjects which are great for inspiration. There are endless possibilities for how to play this version of the madness. Need a few suggestions? Check out Brian Sztabnik’s Edutopia post on how he uses brackets for AP Lit, and scroll down for other content use cases.

Blended Twist: Try this with your online class! There are electronic versions of the bracket that you can share with all your learners and use synchronous class meetings for the debates or showdowns. Use the chat feature in your web conferencing tool or Today’s Meet for backchannel discussions to determine who is winning the debate live.

2. The Math Behind the Madness

As an update to their 2010 article, The New York Times Learning Network then chose to go math crazy in 2014. This is a great revamp of their original article that focuses on the mathematical probabilities related to the tournament and it has great thinking questions related to “the perfect bracket.” If you’re interested in adding more statistical analysis or tweaking the lesson, check out some of the fantastic data sets and interactive content on Nate Silver’s website.

Blended Twist: Before launching this set of problems, consider a flipped instructional approach by using a review of exponents, like in this video from Khan Academy, to help students grasp the basics of bracketology before the class meets. You might also consider turning the reading comprehension questions into some work done outside of class, so that your in-class time can be spent looking at the math and discussing class opinions.

3. Fantasy Fun

For those of you who like the ideas above but might prefer football (as I do), consider Fantasy Geopolitics. This is something you could do for a few weeks, a month, or even a whole school year. Check out the list of ways teachers are using this in their social studies classrooms.

Blended Twist: Good news! This one is already a blended approach to instruction. However, you can pair it with Newsela for struggling readers, allowing them to compete in the game with access to more manageable texts without losing the content knowledge they would need to draft successfully.

The Author and family

Students’ love of sports can be distracting in the classroom, or it can be something that builds relationships. As teachers, our tendency is to try to minimize distractions in order to focus on content — and as a result, we don’t always go with the flow. Instead of fighting the madness, use it to your advantage. Turn learning content into a game and you might just be surprised by the results, especially if you blend it.

Give it a try and share your use cases in the comments below! And “On Wisconsin!”


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