March Madness Probability Activity
I’ve been glad to see an upswing in the number of different March Madness math lessons being shared online recently (see below for links). Each one seems to be focusing on different parts of the tournament or looking at it through a different lens. Designing an interesting probability activity based around the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament has been a goal for years, so I’m excited to unveil this first version.
The main focus of this activity uses the success of teams by seed (since 1979). First, students find the probability of a given seed winning the tournament both as a fraction and percent. Then, they use those numbers to answer a number of questions. There’s an opportunity to talk about the difference between experimental and theoretical probability, as well as compound probability (see the challenge question).
I would follow up this activity by having students fill out a bracket using the statistics they’ve learned or whatever method they choose. Personally, I enjoy picking the winners based on which mascot would win a no-holds-barred steel cage match. After each round, you can have students update their brackets, recalculate their probability of winning, and compare theoretical with experimental probability again based on the results. After the tournament is over, have students tally points for the correctness of their bracket (1 point for each opening round game, 2 for the second round, and so on, with 6 points for predicting the correct champion).
This is the kind of obvious real life math connection that almost any student can understand and get excited about, so we should do what we can to work it into our curricula.