When Garden City Elementary School sixth grade teacher Paul Nadeau began planning his unit on probability with his class, it was just as the NCAA basketball tournaments were beginning.
“I was starting out my probability unit and I realized that with the timing of the tournament, I could tie the two together,” Nadeau said. “It also turned out that the writing focus for this quarter was persuasive writing, so figured out how I could tie that in also.”
Each student in Nadeau’s room had to research the teams who have played in the tournament in past years, and come up with their own basketball brackets.
“We created one set of brackets based on probability, and the students had to write a persuasive piece with good support for the reasons why they chose the teams they chose. They looked at the teams, their records, the returning players and other such factors that might contribute to the strength of the team. Then we created another set of brackets based on which mascots were tougher,” Nadeau said. “It’s obviously my hope that the brackets based on mathematical data will be the more accurate ones.”
Nadeau described the sense of excitement that permeated the classroom each day after a game had been played. There was lots of talk about the teams as they were eliminated, and lots of mathematical discussion as well, as the students discussed the probability of their remaining teams winning or losing the next game.
“It was amazing to hear. Especially to hear so many girls talking about what games they’d watched. I imagine some fathers are reaping the benefits of this unit,” he said.
Nadeau noted that with the way the tournament played out this time around, there were many upsets to the brackets early on, so it led to even greater discussion in the classroom.
Principal Tonianne Napolitano said she was pleased with the creativity and conversation that Nadeau’s unit of study sparked in the students.
“This just goes to show you that you can make the Common Core Standards fun and interesting,” she said.
An unexpected benefit to the project was hearing students talking avidly about colleges, something Nadeau hadn’t thought of previously.
“It got the kids very excited about college. If not all students have someone who went to college to talk about it with them, they’re not necessarily thinking like that. This got everyone thinking and talking about college,” he said.
As a special treat, Nadeau was able to use the classroom technology to stream one game for the students to see for a few minutes at the end of a day, putting together for the students the connection between what they were learning and what was happening in real life.
“On that first Thursday, when the tournament kicked off, I was able to stream one day. The kids got a kick out of seeing what it was that they were writing about,” Nadeau said. “So often we have to move through our curriculum so fast that it’s hard to find ways to connect to the real world and to teach them that people really do use this information.”
Many of the students were so caught up in the excitement of the lesson, they forgot that they were actually learning.
“We got to learn about basketball and I forgot that we were actually learning math,” said Anahid Donoyan. “I hope he does this every year; it was fun.”