March MATHness

by Jennie Webb

March is the time of year when breaks are few and far between, but summer is too far away to start counting down. It’s also when I find student behavior issues increasing and work ethic decreasing. So years ago, I started implementing a math game I call March MATHness as a way to motivate students during that long stretch between winter and spring break.

What is March MATHness?

March MATHness is a tournament-style competition that involves math and a little bit of basketball. It’s also a way to start sneaking in some review from throughout the year. There are lots of ways to implement this math game, and it can be adjusted to fit other subject areas as well. I just don’t have clever names for them.


Here’s the motivating part. When students know there will be a competition that includes prizes, almost everyone wants in. So at the beginning of March or end of February, tell your students that the math game is coming up and define the criteria that they must meet to compete. Most of the time, my criteria has been that students can only participate if they have no missing assignments. I give them a certain date to have all work complete (mid-term or the end of the quarter, for example). More recently, I’ve been giving less homework, so I made the eligibility requirements that students can not have any discipline infractions for my class during the month of March and they must get at least a 75% on all quizzes (which they are allowed to retake).

Qualifying Round

Around the 3rd or so week of March, I have a qualifying round for those who are eligible. If a student is not eligible or chooses not to participate, they work on an assignment while others compete to see who makes it into the tournament and onto the bracket. I give every student playing a white board and marker. I put up a question on my screen and students answer it on their white board. Once they have the answer, the student holds up the board. The first person who holds up the correct answer gets the point for that question. Whenever a student gets 2 points, they have made it into the March MATHness tournament. I typically write the student’s name on my board when he or she gets a question correct. The next time that student gets a question correct, I write their “seed” number next to their name. That is how they are placed on the bracket. Each “region” of the bracket is a class period. I have 8 students from each class who compete in the tournament. If you have more than 4 classes, you can combine the 2 classes with the least number of eligible students or add an extra section to your bracket and have the winner from that class play in a “final five.”

What You Need

  • A basketball hoop- This can be an over-the-door hoop, a trashcan, or a bucket.
  • Dry-erase boards (2)
  • Expo Markers (2)
  • Erasers (2)
  • Basketballs (2)- These can be whatever will fit in your hoop. Before I purchased 2 little squish basketballs, I used to have students just throw the erasers into the hoop.
  • A selection of questions with the answers at hand for you. The best method is to have these on some slides for the students to see.

The Tournament

The March MATHness tournament can last weeks depending on how you want to play. I typically use the last 5 minutes of a class to do a round. It may take less time than that, but it usually doesn’t take more. Each class will play 7 rounds to get a class winner.

For each round, two students will sit an equal distance from the basketball hoop. They will each have a dry-erase board, a marker, an eraser, a calculator if allowed, and a ball. Each student can also choose a “rebounder,” someone who will return the ball for them if missed. (It’s enough pressure to shoot a ball in front of their classmates. They shouldn’t have to chase the ball down too). I usually let them choose whoever they want right before their round. Go over the rules with the students- where they must stand, no blocking, no calling out answers from others in the class, students can shoot at the same time, etc.

Display a question for both students to answer. They write their answer on the dry-erase board and show it to you. If correct, you tell them to “start shooting.” If incorrect, tell them it is incorrect, and they can continue trying. A student should continue to try to answer a question correctly even if their competitor already has. The first person to make a basket is the winner of that round and moves on to the next round of the tournament. So if a student correctly answers a question first, they have more time to get a basket, but the other student may still be able to answer and make the shot before them to win. It is often an exciting couple minutes of fun to watch.

I usually do a round or 2  of the math game when there is time, so the tournament may last a couple weeks before there is a winner from each class. Each time we do a round, I add the student’s name to the bracket. The class champions will be the “final four” and I will give them a small prize for winning in their class. I work with my teammates to find a time when a student may leave their class to come complete. The other teachers are very accommodating, especially since it is only a few minutes. I’ve even had teachers let their whole class come watch and cheer since the other student has the “home court advantage.” Finally there will only be 2 students left to compete and the winner will be the March MATHness champion. They will win a small basket of goodies that includes candy and lots of passes to use in class such as a homework pass, choose my seat pass, first out the door pass, etc. The funny thing is, in all my years of doing this competition, the winner has never used all of their passes. Some students never use any of them.

If you have a March MATHness competition in your class, let me know! Tag me in your pics on social media.

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Lauren Gandy February 23, 2021 - 8:15 am

I am going to try this idea this year, despite Covid restrictions. Do you have an editable version of the bracket?

Jennie Webb February 23, 2021 - 7:07 pm Reply

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