Math teacher turns March Madness into a lesson on probability
March Madness is everywhere in the Triangle, including in a Raleigh middle school where a math teacher had her students use logic and probability on Thursday to help them fill out their NCAA tournament brackets.
The NCAA men’s basketball tournament has become part of this month’s seventh-grade math curriculum at Durant Road Middle School in North Raleigh. Math teacher Alyssa Jackson said she’s carrying on the fond memories of how her math teachers at East Wake High School in Wendell incorporated March Madness into their classes.
“It’s important for students to be able to relate math to something going on in the community, or even nationwide like the NCAA tournament,” said Jackson, 25, who is in her third year of teaching. “I thought this was a perfect opportunity for students to see how math can pertain to something outside of the classroom.”
Jackson had her students put newly learned math concepts to the test Thursday by researching the theoretical probability for teams to win the NCAA tournament based on their seed.
The college basketball teams are split into four 16-team regions. They’re seeded, or ranked, 1 to 16 with the lower the number meaning the better the team.
What her students learned is that it’s not easy being a Cinderella. Villanova University near Philadelphia is the lowest-seeded team to ever win the championship, having been an eighth seed in 1985.
“I’m pretty surprised to see how none of the teams ranked below eighth have won,” said Matthew Herb, 13.
Before the end of Thursday’s class, Jackson had her students fill out a tournament bracket. She told them they can go with their heart or use the math they learned in class. Jackson admitted she picks based on which team’s mascot she prefers.
Jackson’s math classes will continue to follow the tournament as they turn the results into an exercise in experimental probability and determine how well the teams are performing based on their seed. Plus, students will have bragging rights for having the best brackets.
The basketball rivalry among N.C. State, UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke University also found its way into the classes. N.C. State didn’t make this year’s men’s tournament so Jackson, a Wolfpack graduate, played clips from the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary “Survive And Advance” on N.C. State’s 1983 championship run.
“I had to show some State pride today,” Jackson said.
Jackson comes from a family of UNC-Chapel Hill graduates, including her father, state Rep. Darren Jackson.
“Do you like North Carolina?” Jackson joked with student John Scarangella, 12. “I don’t agree with you. But there’s a very good chance Carolina could be in the finals.”
Thursday’s class had the kind of hands-on math activity that Allie Nazarenko, 13, said she’s come to expect from Jackson. It’s just one of the reasons Allie said she likes having Jackson as a teacher.
“She’s one of the people you can actually ask questions and she’ll try to answer to the best of her ability,” Allie said. “It’s not like you’re scared to ask questions.”