Teaching Math Through March Madness

Published by MrHonner on

ncaa bracket 2014My latest piece for the New York Times Learning Network leverages March Madness to explore some basic ideas in counting and probability.

Begin by having students explore how to count the number of possible brackets. Start by analyzing a four-team bracket, say, with Team A playing Team B and Team C playing Team D in the first round. Have the students directly list the eight possible tournament outcomes: For example, A beats B, D beats C, and then D beats A is one such outcome. The use of tree diagrams may be helpful in representing the possible brackets.

Then ask students to predict and explore how many brackets are possible with an eight-team tournament. There are 2 raised to the 7th power, or 128, such brackets. One way to see this is first by noting that eight teams in a single-elimination tournament will end up playing seven total games: Seven of the eight teams must be eliminated, which requires that they lose a game.

I’m glad I could make a small contribution to the Math Madness surrounding March Madness!  You can find the entire lesson here.


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