Well, it is March and of course that means MADNESS! There is something that I have always loved about the release of the brackets each year for the NCAA Basketball Tournament. I appreciate the structure and design of the process probably even more than the actually games themselves. Certainly, a bracket system is not just used for college basketball. Sadly my favorite alternative backet THIS IS MADNESS: The Star Wars Character Tournament is not being held this year. That being said, Walt Disney World is hosting MARCH MAGIC which features a competition for the Ultimate Disney Attraction. Edutopia even suggests ways that brackets can be brought into the classroom to get students to passionately debate works of literature.
While Angela Housand and I were writing the Using the Schoolwide Enrichment Model with Technology book last March, Angela was working with Christie Howe, a gifted teacher in Wilmington, North Carolina. Christie had the brilliant idea of having her students create brackets to help identify potential topics for their upcoming passion projects which she call Academies. As we thought about this idea, we developed a Google Spreadsheet to help teachers bring this idea into their classrooms for use with their students. Below is a step-by-step guide for getting started.
1. LIST INTERESTS - Provide students with 2-3 minutes to speed write all of the things that they can think of that they are interested in. Have them write for the entire time. The focus in the first round is on the FLUENCY of ideas. As they are writing have them number the items. Things that they find most interesting will tend to come to mind first and be listed at the top of the list rather than things that they are only mildly interested being at the bottom of the list.
2. CREATE A BRACKET OF INTERESTS - Now that students have a list of their interests, it is time to create their own bracket. To help you along in this process, we created a Google Spreadsheet with brackets for Eight, Sixteen, Thirty-Two, and even Sixty-Four interest areas. In working with students and teachers, we have found that seems to work best with an initial bracket of sixteen, but you and your students can decide what is going to work best for you. Feel free to make a copy of this Google Spreadsheet or CLICK HERE to have a copy automatically added to your Google Drive. It also makes it more compelling if the interests are entered according to their "rank" that they were listed. For example the first item listed would battle against the sixteenth item, the second item would battle against the fifteenth item, and so on.
3. LET THE BATTLE BEGIN! - Have your students decide which item they are more interested in each round. Let students work their way through each round until they reach their ultimate interest. The hope here is that they will be able to begin to determine things that they are interested in versus topics that they might be passionate about.
4. BE SURE TO DEBRIEF THE PROCESS - As students work their way to the ultimate area of interest, encourage them to discuss with others the tough choices that they are making. After everyone completes the bracket challenge, inquire about things that surprised them in the process. Were there decisions that were easier to make? What surprised them about the process? How do they feel about the interests that made it to the Final Four? And perhaps most importantly, what did they learn about themselves and their classmates in the process. Finally, do not forget to provide them opportunities to continue exploring their areas and interest.
If you try this activity out with your students, I would love to hear how it went. Please feel free to post your experience to this blog or contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read more about ways to incorporate technology into student based interest projects check out Using the Schoolwide Enrichment Model with Technology.