Saturday, March 23, 2013

March Madness In The Classroom - Teaching With Tournament Graphics

Source: ESPN (click for detail)
Our weeks are currently consumed with the NCAA basketball tournament. March, however, brings its own kind of madness in the educational world. Kids feel the first tug of spring, and all the cooped-up energy of icy months comes spilling out in the final throws of the semester. Teachers and administrators try to wedge in all those initiatives that haven't yet made it onto the calendar, and the ensuing months of April and May are a downhill rush of hectic scheduling. We could make our own school bracket of opposing educational forces: field trips vs. finals, fairs vs. field days, projects vs. parties, testing vs. technology.

Given the focus on March Madness and bracketology, it makes sense to incorporate these tantalizing distractions into the flow of the classroom. Half of our students seem absorbed with their picks, and the other half seem oblivious of televised sports. But whenever a mass media event takes over the airwaves for a period of time (like the Super Bowl, Inauguration, State Of The Union, or Mayan Apocalypse), it presents a prime opportunity to forge real-world connections with critical skill development.

Infographics offer especially appealing tools to grab kids' attentions and visualize the details. Here are a few possible ways to make March Madness the centerpiece of expanded learning:


Source: (click for detail)
If nothing else, the annual tournament is a great re-introduction to familiar names that defy familiar locations. We hear their names heralded on CBS, but unless you happen to be an alum, do you know where to find Gonzaga (Spokane), Creighton (Omaha), or Valparaiso (Indiana)? In your bracket, who will win the battle of vague geography? Southern U or NW State? Pacific or Florida Gulf? One Ohio third-grade class had the solution to pull down the wall map and pin each contender. Another idea is to map each team's journey, from Round One to the Finals, with old-fashioned pins and string or modern Google Maps.


The mathematics of probability feature prominently in choosing between the seeded teams. A student can calculate the chances of advancing from the first to the final round to become a bona fide NCAA-strodamus. Learners can then add layers of complexity based on a team's regular season record. They can also recreate the RPI index rankings for themselves. Or they can figure out why it's statistically more probable to win the Powerball lottery or become a saint than to pencil in a perfect bracket.


(click for detail)
The art of winning the office pool is the science of making predictions. How about setting up a classroom pool based on clear hypotheses to test the scientific method? Even though buzzer-beaters have little to do with physics, the arcs of the shots do. And even though the psychology of halftime speeches might not make it into college textbooks, the process of data collection can be graphed in a lab.

Financial Literacy

Source: Midwest Sports Fans
(click for detail)
The NCAA tournament reaps millions of dollars for participating schools and broadcast networks. For real-world ways of teaching financial literacy, teachers can analyze the exact team earnings or TV ad revenue. They can also explore the price of arena attendance or the cost of lost productivity at office cubicles. History or economics classes can investigate the accusations against the NCAA of running an unfair monopoly over merchandising, participation, and earnings. Many analysts, for example, argue that the players deserve compensation for the money they raise.

Media Literacy

Partnered with the advertising revenue of the tournament is the media "selling" of each team. The highlight packages in slow motion revel in hero athletes who might become star NBA players. The school logos get paramount placement on scoreboards and parquet floors. In this vein, classes could design their own mock brackets for real consumer brands.

Source: Ultimate Coupons


Which teams are getting the most social media buzz? Which media applications are the most popular for tracking the winners? Which prime time moments are receiving the most Twitter mentions? All of these questions offer interesting angles to explore pop culture and technology saturation. Check out the "Facebook Buzz March Madness" or "The Social Side Of March Madness" on Mashable.

Graphic Design

Each tournament interface and online tool seems to feature its own style of bracket. Computer programmers can learn the coding of menus and progressions. Artists can learn the technology skills of appealing graphic design. Students of any age can compare bracket versions to understand visual thinking and graphic organization.

Source: I Love Charts


Source: Media Behavior Institute
The demographics of viewers and players provide a rich trove of statistics. Cultural observers can parse the facts of gambling and watching. They can trace the passion for teams across the nation's regions. Check out "The Straight Scoop On College Hoops" on Only Infographic.


Language instructors can have a little linguistic fun with the annual battle of school initials. As one prognosticator we know always asks, "Will NC A&T beat VCU ? Will UNLV trounce UCLA?" Teachers can also adopt the bracket formula to make a tournament on an unrelated class objective, such as this poetry face-off or this U.S. Senator contest.

College Applications

Juniors thinking about which college to attend should use the publicity of the tournament to assess schools. They can track the admissions stats vis a vis the tournament wins to find the best student athletes. Or they can view student-to-teacher ratios in their own scholarly bracket. Take a look at "Brackets For The Unconventional" or "Brains Vs Wins" to see more details.

For other possible applications of March Madness in the classroom, check out these Education World lesson ideas.


  1. A gradual increase is noted in the number of students accessing their course materials on PCs, smartphones, tablets and other mobile device. The innovative info graphics will make it easier for teachers to keep their students engages and cover the course topics.

  2. This is a smart blog. I mean it. You have so much knowledge about this issue, and so much passion. You also know how to make people rally behind it, obviously from the responses. Youve got a design here thats not too flashy, but makes a statement as big as what youre saying. Great job, indeed.


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