March Madness and Geography

March Madness… For most teachers this refers to the struggle to “keep it together” until spring break. For the rest of the nation, however, this is the month everyone seems to be a basketball fan. The reason? In March the NCAA has its annual basketball championship tournament. There is so much madness, in fact, that March Madness continues to April with the championship game being held April 3.

A lot of times this tournament can be a big distraction in schools. Students seem to be more concerned with Cinderella stories and bracket busters than with their regular school work. Instead of banning brackets and blocking streaming links (much to the disappoint of certain social studies teachers in my school), what if we as educators used this as an opportunity to make a more geo-literate student body?

During the tournament the last two years I used a National Geographic Tile Map (the tabletop map set) for the United States to show the location of the teams in the tournament. Then I put together a document with a table of all the college teams in the tournament and included team name, mascot, record, conference, and location. I also included the same style of document for the NCAA Women’s Tournament. Finally, I used push pins to place the locations of the schools on the map. This definitely caught students’ attention, but there are many more opportunities to use this tournament to really engage students and teach them some geography without telling them we are teaching geography.

Here are some ideas on how we can use the tournament as a learning opportunity…

1) For students in lower grades, simply cutting out the school names and putting them on the map could help them learn where cities and states are located.
2) Have students pick one of the teams and do a report on the school, city, and/or state. This could even be done in a “star of the day” format with one student presenting their information each day.
3) Compare the location of the universities to a population density map. What connections can be made between the two maps? Have students brainstorm other ways to analyze the tournament with geography or social studies themes (income, graduation rate, etc).
4) Have students look through the list of schools and search for geographic connections between mascots and geography. Check out our WIGA Blog called Mascot Mania (written by Carlo Kumpula) for some examples.
5) Use the schools to do a geography quiz in the classroom. This could include matching mascots, city/states, or other related items.
6) Organize a bracket challenge with your students and then award bonus points based on geography quizzes (see #5 above).
7) Hang up the map in a public space (hallway, cafeteria, etc) and have a geography trivia question posted each day. Leave some paper and a drop box for answers. Award candy or another small prize to the winner.

The possibilities for connecting the tournament and geography are endless! I included links to all the materials if you would like to try one of these ideas or create your own March Madness activity. If you find any mistakes or would like to share your activity I would love to hear from you! Have fun and keep up the great work!

Ben Skifton
Hartford Union High School
ben.skifton@snc.edu