Saturday, March 19, 2016

Bracketology: Using the NCAA Basketball Tournament as a Literacy Tool

  Like many of us, I love March Madness: filling out a bracket, watching the games, rooting for the underdogs, enjoying the outstanding individual performances-it is truly magic!

     For years now, I have had my student library aides fill out a bracket just for fun.  We hold a contest to see who among the library staff can guess the most winners of the games correctly.  This past week, I had my students fill out a bracket again.  But this year my perspective changed.  Instead of just viewing the filling out of a bracket as a fun exercise,
I began to view it as a literacy opportunity.

     As I presented the bracket opportunity to my students this spring, I was struck by how many did not know how to read a bracket.  I am not sure if this is because I have fewer student aides this year who are basketball players/fans than in the past.  That was out first lesson-how exactly do you decipher a bracket?  (After all this is a life skill right? - at some point their children may participate in competitions of all kinds where the results will be posted in a bracket)

     Filling out an NCAA bracket also has other literacy opportunities embedded within it.  As students fill out their brackets, they can learn new vocabulary terms such as seeds, regional, mid-major conference, and even RPI (Ratings Percentage Index-in other words: how did a team fare against other good teams in the regular season?).

     Bracketology also gives us as educators chances to differentiate instruction for our learners.  Students will need to check the results almost daily to update their brackets.  Which websites are the best sources of information?  How do I read information on these websites?  Aside from the scores, what statistics can help me to understand why this team won against a particular opponent?

      For students who are ready to go deeper, research opportunities abound: how does the NCAA figure out the seeded teams and who plays who? Why does... team with a better record have a lower seed than ... team?  What types of players/styles do the different teams play and how does this impact the results?  Does it matter that ... team has no players on its roster that are taller than 6 foot 5 inches, or that all of their starting players are seniors?  Historically, does .... team usually play better against.... team and why is that?

     Working with my students this year to teach them about filling out a bracket for the NCAA tournament ended being an unexpected literacy opportunity.  I wonder what other unexpected literacy opportunities we can utilize as teachers/media specialists to further equip our students as effective users of information in the 21st century world?

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