As I filled out my NCAA bracket this year, I was struck by its potential for impact in the classroom. In order to make my decisions, I was relying heavily on higher order thinking skills, such as analysis and evaluation. For each bracket, I had to learn a bit about the two teams, compare and contrast the teams' strengths and weaknesses, and then decide which was the stronger contender. The very next day, I began a bracket competition in my AP European History class in which my students review by naming the most influential figure in European History.
I gave my students Spring Break to complete their brackets and for motivation, I offered one extra credit point for every bracket win. On our first day back from break, I heard about multiple intense Facebook discussions over especially contentious first round showdowns, such as Martin Luther vs. Karl Marx.
I broke up the bracket so that each day a manageable amount of "games" are played. Before class, I take a look at the brackets and make a cursory decision as to which figure I think would win, but make no final choice. For roughly the first twenty minutes of class, we go through the day's match ups. The class announces their pick, and if it coincides with mine, the decision is easy. If one student dissents, however, the floor opens to debate and my students' job is to convince me their choice is the best. The heated exchange pitting Jean-Jacques Rousseau against his real-life nemesis Voltaire was epic and entertaining! The nature vs. nurture debate, their ideas on the role of women in society, religious toleration, slavery, education, democracy vs. Enlightened Absolutism, the French Revolution, and the origins of socialism were all being argued back and forth to support the two cases. As the final arbiter, I choose a winner based on my own evaluation of the match up combined with the points made in the class debate. I have on several occasions reversed my preliminary decision due to a weak defense of my initial candidate and a strong argument in favor of the opponent. This situation, however, alerts me to a gap in the students' knowledge and presents an excellent opportunity for some on the spot reteaching.
I found that even if students don't have any "skin in the game" for a particular bracket, they are still active participants in the debate. Since there are lots of extra credit points at stake, they enthusiastically help develop the arguments to support or thwart classmates whose bracket choices are still in play. The conversations continue in the hall, where I overhear discussions of the day's results. My former students have even come up to me to protest what they consider to be an upset.
The Elite Eight begins tomorrow, followed by the Final Four, and the Championship on April 11th. As the decisions become more difficult, the discussions are deepening and the learning intensifies. My students have unanimously agreed that this has been an enriching, productive, and fun learning experience, and a fantastic review for the AP Exam.
In preparing this blog post, I searched for other examples of bracketology in the classroom, and here are some finds:
- A great example in AP Government from Mr. Rimmey: The Most Influential Supreme Court Case
- Some cross-curricular ideas from the Aside Blog
- A Periodic Table bracket from Challonge.com
- A Presidential or States showdown from Ian Byrd