March Madness at School, Eight Apps to Follow It & Other Brackets to Play

OK. I really, really enjoy March Madness.  The four days starting yesterday are some of the most exciting and intense sporting days on the entire calendar.  Numerous concurrent match-ups, close & thrilling games with surprise upsets, and a national mania about “bracketology” unmatched by any other event.

Yes, productivity plunges during this time as office workers and high school students alike sneak glances (or entire class periods) to view scores and find out how their personal bracket is holding up.  Yesterday afternoon, a student passed me in the hall and enthusiastically let me know “UAB is winning!”  I’m not so familiar with the tournament that I could immediately know that he meant Univ. of Alabama, Birmingham (14 seed) was on the verge of upsetting Iowa State ( 3 seed).

Do I think schools should do everything possible to keep students away from getting info on March Madness during these unique school days?  No, because even though we block ESPN.com on the students’ iPads, there are no shortage of other ways for them learn scores and even “live cast” games.  Nor do I take the other perspective and think teachers should incorporate it into their lesson planning.

I think it’s a diversionary, fleeting moment of fun which only comes around once a year.  And besides, it helps break up a long, still-chilly month about which Garrison Keillor once said: “March is the month that God designed to show those who don’t drink what a hangover is like.”

And yes, if you want to follow the Madness with your devices (instead of jumping on a browser), here’s the link to the list provided by Time.

OVERTIME: If you don’t like NCAA Men’s Basketball, but you do like brackets, here’s a couple of other options underway:

Saints Madness 2015

Build-a-Bear Bracket Challenge

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UPDATE: Here’s one more interesting bracket that I found in the Washington Post.  It takes common pairs, e.g. peanut butter and jelly and splits them up on either side of the bracket.  The idea is we’ll see which one makes it furthest and is therefore the most important of the two.

Dinner, PARCC Testing and Intentionally Losing a HS Basketball Game

Last night I enjoyed a fantastic dinner with former colleagues from a major educational publisher with whom I worked a few years ago.  The woman whom I sat next to had a similar career path as me – teaching few a few years, working as a consultant in educational publishing, and now returning to the classroom.  For me it’s high school teaching.  For her it’s third graders.

The topic of standardized testing came up, specifically the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) Assessments which are linked to the controversial Common Core Standards which have their outspoken supporters and detractors.

This third grade teacher rattled off the laundry list of standardized tests she will give to her nine year olds, including the PARCC Assessment.  We talked about the websites which encourage the growing number of parents who are choosing to opt out of the exam.  I shared about the test anxiety that my bright fifth grade daughter is feeling right now as she is preparing to take it.  And we laughed at how this daughter of mine is telling people that “PARCC is CCRAP spelled backwards.”

The issue of the efficacy of standardized testing, especially for young elementary students was discussed today on The Conversation website.  Jennifer Keys Adair, Professor of Early Childhood Education at the University of Texas, writes:

“Over time, it was seen that testing was not the best measure. Researchers at Stanford have, in fact, found that testing is a terrible, stand-alone measure of accountability. Other evidence against testing has been mounting as well. Earlier in 2015, teachers testifying to Congress emphasized the effects of standardized testing on teaching and learning from NCLB…”

“Testing emphasizes learning as “right and wrong answers”, which is not the way most kids learn. Kids have been shown to learn through trial and error as well as discovery. Testing values directions and achievement over creativity and a range of learning experiences.”

“As an early childhood teacher educator, I find myself sympathizing with teachers who, under pressure from administrators and policymakers, have to prepare young children to be successful on tests that begin in third grade.”

Learning as “right and wrong answers” is much like saying that the only value to playing a competitive basketball game is to win.  Anyone who has coached youth knows that there are myriad benefits to competition in organized sports just as there are many benefits to learning besides getting “right and wrong answers.

Also today, I saw this article in the Washington Post. 

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Both high school teams were tied in the standings going into the game.  Which ever team lost, would be seeded in a more advantageous spot in the post-season tournament bracket.  In the story published by the local Tennessee newspaper an official says of one of the coaches: “He [the coach] said he talked to them about bracketology,” [TSSAA executive director Bernard] Childress said. “He told them, ‘This is where we will be if we win, this is where we will be if we lose.’ “ 

Apparently the players of this coach understood the message and took the court with the intention to lose.  Once this team intentionally missed free throws, sought to turn the ball over, and allowed their opponent to score easily, it was clear they were seeking to lose.  Then the other team adopted some of the same tactics and the refs stopped the game b/c it was obvious neither team was playing to win.

To these teams and coaches the only value of the competition was the outcome, in this case losing and not winning.  I wonder how many youth who take myriad standardized tests in their educational careers have come to view learning as simply about the score-based outcome.  I wonder how many test-jaded students take the rebellious tactic, like my then seventh grade son did last year, of intentionally doing poorly on a standardized test.

Most of all, I wonder if and when the pendulum will swing backwards from standardized testing to other, more holistic based assessments of student learning.

One thing I do suspect in light of this spate of ridiculously record cold in Columbus (-11 F yesterday morning) is that God doesn’t like the PARCC test either as tests have been postponed or canceled both last week and this week due to so many school closings!