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NCAA basketball? Absolutely. History Movie Madness? Heck, yeah. Bracketology in the classroom? Yes, please.

Just so you know. Huge March Madness fan. First four days of the tournament rank right up there with the NCSS conference, Fourth of July, and the winter holidays. And the 2023 version did not disappoint. Would have liked KU to have done better but otherwise loving the upsets.

But somewhere in between Princeton knocking off Arizona and Gonzaga surviving TCU, I flashbacked to the American Battlefield Trust’s History Movie Madness Bracket Contest from a couple of years ago. You’ve probably heard of the Trust back when it was called the Civil War Trust. It started as a group dedicated to preserving Civil War battlefield sites. It’s now also working to do the same for Revolutionary War and War of 1812 sites. So . . . they’re good people.

I’ve written about my favorite history movies before so having the chance to break down 32 movies to find the all-time best is right up my alley.

The Trust starts off with by claiming somehow that Gods and Generals is the best movie ever. Clearly they’re very confused about what constitutes a quality movie. (Spoiler alert. Gods and Generals didn’t make it out of the first round.) But I love the idea of a movie bracket. I was so in.

I’ll be honest. I hadn’t seen all of the movies in the bracket. But I haven’t seen all 68 teams in the NCAA tournament either. So I was okay faking my way through this bracket the same way I did my basketball one. And the criteria for the winners is about as loose for the movies as it is for the NCAA. Pick your faves based on leading actor or director or time period or most significant event or most historically accurate or well, whatever you decide. My wive’s 5th grade class picked basketball winners based on best mascot so . . . there’s a lot of leeway here. (Gonzaga Zags BTW.)

I’ve posted my entry below. Feel free to troll my picks.

We love March Madness and brackets like the one from the American Battlefield Trust because of the upsets, competition, and great stories. So . . . we should absolutely use the same process to hook our students into our content.

Using a March Madness bracket structure is a great way to introduce content, encourage deep levels of research, and build student engagement. And is perfect for helping kids practice using evidence to make claims. It can also provide a less stressful environment for asking kids to think and discuss complicated topics. This really is a type of Thinking Routine that can also train students to become more effective citizens able to stand up and make their voices heard when the occasion arises.

You can create your own brackets. Have kids create their own. Do long-term research. Become 10 Minute Experts after some Google searching. Work alone. Or in groups. Kids can write or present their research as exit tickets, as larger products, as structured debates, or on shared Google documents. So. Many. Ways this can happen.

Need a few sample prompts?

  • Who is the most over-rated (or under-rated) American president?
  • Most impactful invention of all time?
  • What is the most important US Supreme Court case?
  • Best place to survive a Zombie Apocalypse?
  • Most disrespected historical figure?
  • Geographic region most in need of protecting?
  • Most influential photograph? Or the most important work of art?

Need some sample brackets?

Learn more about what this can look like by browsing through the following resources – all containing multiple examples, handouts, and classroom suggestions:

I also like the idea of incorporating the Thinking Routines over at Project Zero as part of this bracket process. They’ve created a variety of strategies – and the handouts to go with them – that can help your students make sense of the content involved in your March Madness Bracket Challenges. Be sure to explore one titled Take a Stand – seems like a natural fit for helping kids explore other viewpoints and opinions.

While you may not be the biggest basketball fan, you shouldn’t be afraid to jump into the world of bracketology to help your kids with research and using evidence to make claims.

(Not super interested in the History Movie Bracket? The American Battlefield Trust still has you covered. They have some awesome site and resources for you to explore. There’s a great set of Civil War curriculum materials and a ton of teacher resources including traveling trunks, teacher institutes, and journals for both students and you. And you’ll also love their travel itineraries – perfect for actually traveling to the different battlefields. But you can also use these as part of your instruction. Students could use them as examples to create their own, you could ask kids to rate itineraries based on battle importance, or use them as part of a VR tour.)

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Glenn is a curriculum and tech integration specialist, speaker, and blogger with a passion for technology and social studies. He delivers engaging professional learning across the country with a focus on consulting, presentations, and keynotes. Find out more about Glenn and how you might learn together by going to his Speaking and Consulting page.

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