Using the Excitement of March Madness to Spark Learning

As an active, athletic family, we love March Madness. It’s the time of the annual NCAA college basketball tournament, and it’s one of the most exciting and intense stretches in all of sports. It’s when avid sports fans and those who don’t particularly follow sports come together to share in the frenzy.

March Madness brings excitement and potential distractions for kids and adults, but there are ways to channel this fun time of the year into productive learning and practice. Here are a few ways to use the March Madness theme across different subject areas with your kids:

Reading: For a twist on the traditional March Madness tournament, engage your learners in A Tournament of Books! This is a fun way to merge their interest in sports with reading and discussing books. Choose 16 books on which to focus, read and even reread the books, fill out a bracket, and then start the voting. This activity is great for encouraging little ones to read more as well as giving them the opportunity to use their voice to vote for their favorites. It also engages reluctant readers who need a little extra incentive.

Math: There are many ways to look at March Madness with a math focus. Here are a few ideas and the grade ranges for which they’re most appropriate:

  • Counting Practice: Get your kids active and moving around! Give them a basketball and see how many times they can bounce the ball without losing control. Make sure they count out loud. If the numbers get higher than they can count, chime in and show them how to count high! (Grade range: Pre-K–2)
  • Comparing Scores: Look at the final game scores and have learners pay attention to place value as they determine the winner. Engage them in conversation about how they know which number is bigger. Extend the learning by asking questions like, “What is the difference between the two scores? How many more points would the team have needed to reach 100 points?” (Grade range: 2-5)
  • Math Fact Fluency Tournament: Invite other kids to participate in this fun and exciting game that builds fact fluency with math facts. Kids will compete against each other in a single-elimination tournament. Give them a math fact, like 2 + 3. The one who says the correct answer first gets a point. Tally up the points and determine a winner of the round. You can even use a bracket here if you have enough kids!
    (Grade range: 3-5)
  • Shoot and Score with Math Facts: This is my favorite, and it is so versatile. Call out a math fact that’s appropriate to your learner’s age and math fluency. If they give you the correct answer, let them shoot a basket! You can play this on a basketball court, use an over-the-door hoop, or simply use a ball or wadded paper and an empty trash can, bucket, or other container. (Grade range: Pre-K-5)

Social Studies: Because the teams in the NCAA tournament span the country, March Madness is a perfect opportunity to work on map skills. With a geography focus, help your learner identify each team’s location on the map. Then, point out your location. Ask questions like, “Which team’s school is closest to us? How would we travel to visit this team’s school—a bike, car, or plane?”

Science: Young scientists will love combining science with fun activities. Teach about subjects like friction by looking at the bumpy dots on the surface of the basketball and explaining that they help make it easier to play the game. Have your kids use two different balls—a basketball and a smooth bouncy ball—to compare how the balls work when dribbling, passing, and shooting. Ask them to determine which ball they had more control of and whether the bumpy dots on the basketball were helpful. For more ideas of how to integrate basketball and science, use the Kids’ Science Fair Experiments With Basketballs resource.

Extended Learning: When I watched the tournament in high school, I remember hearing the schools’ names and wondering about them. I was interested in where they were, what they specialize in, and if they’d be the right fit for me. Thank goodness for the early days of the internet because I was able to learn the basics about schools I had never heard of before! March Madness provides a great opportunity to talk about the colleges playing in the tournament. It’s never too early to start the conversation about options for higher education with your child.

March Madness is the perfect time to merge sports and academics for your young learner as you keep their bodies and brains active throughout the month of March.

By Caitlin Hardeman, former third through sixth grade teacher specializing in English Language Arts.

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