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March Mammal Madness the Easy Way!

March mammal madness is a fun and easy way to engage students in learning about nature.

Have you heard of March Mammal Madness? March Mammal Madness was all the rage in my 6th grade classroom last year!

It was an amazing experience to watch students get excited about something new and different. I loved listening to students debate the merits of which animal would win a battle, and was surprised that some of my quietest students had the most fun!

Worried that MMM will take too much time from your class? I was pleasantly surprised that we were able to really enjoy the experience without a huge time commitment – in fact, we had spent roughly 2 class periods to fill out brackets and 10 minutes a day, twice a week to watch and score the battles.

It was definitely worth it!

In this post, I’ll share how I ran a simple March Mammal Madness Tournament in my sixth grade classroom that the kids loved!

What is March Mammal Madness?

March Mammal Madness is a fun competition that simulates hypothetical battles between mammals. The tournament is inspired by college basketball’s March Madness and is organized and run by Dr. Katie Hinde, a biologist at Arizona State University.

Set up like the basketball tournament, the MMM committee selects 64 mammal species and assigns them to four brackets. The matchups are based on the species’ characteristics and natural history.

The outcomes of each battle are determined by a mix of scientific research and an element of chance!

Here’s a few reasons I love March Mammal Madness in the classroom:

  1. It’s so much fun! I’ve never seen my students get excited about research before March Mammal Madness! Students loved learning about different mammal species and their unique characteristics. If you teach life science, or have extra time, students can research and discuss the behaviors, adaptations, and habitats of the different mammals featured in the tournament.
  2. It promotes critical thinking. Students are encouraged to think critically about the strengths and weaknesses of each mammal and how they might fare in a hypothetical matchup.
  3. Collaboration Collaborating with partners for research promotes teamwork and communication skills.
  4. Creativity Depending on how much time you have to spend on MMM, there’s no limit to the number creative activities you can do!
    • Students can create their own brackets, design posters or infographics about different mammal species, or even write short stories or poems inspired by the tournament.

March Mammal Madness Resources for Educators

March Mammal Madness can be as simple or complex as you want!

To get the most out of MMM, I would highly recommend joining the official March Mammal Madness Facebook Group. It’s just for educators and it full of resources and ideas!

The March Mammal Madness website is phenomenal and has an abundance of resources, lesson plans, and worksheets to help you get started and make the most of MMM in your classroom!

march mammal madness is easy to play in the classroom
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How I Use March Mammal Madness in the Classroom

Last year, we had a blast with MMM without sacrificing a ton of class time!

Here’s how I organized March Mammal Madness in my classroom:

1. Introduce the tournament

To get the kids pumped up and excited for the tournament, I showed them the trailer video and then explained how the tournament worked.

MMM has a great video this year by Katie Hinde which explains the tournament. She does an awesome job of explaining the tournament, so this is perfect if you’re a beginner!

If your students have never participated in March Mammal Madness, here’s an idea to help them understand MMM: Choose an interesting battle from a previous year’s bracket. Give the students fifteen minutes to research the two animals that will be battling and make predictions about who will win. Then show the corresponding video from the YouTube channel and cheer on the contestants. The Grey Wolf vs The Grizzly is a great one to get them started!

2. Explain the bracket

Before kids start their research, they’ll need to be able to to read the bracket and understand how it works. The ultimate question is “who would win” if these animals faced each other in the wild.

I used the poster maker in my school to print a giant bracket to place outside my classroom. Students updated it after each round.

Here’s a few things I made sure to point out last year:

  • The seed number represents the ranking of the team/animal. Lower number seeds have better odds. For example if a 1 is fighting a 16, one has better odds of winning.
  • Round one and round two (Sweet 16) will battle in the higher seed’s habitat.
    • For example, If the Tiger (3) is battling the Catfish (14), the battle will take place in the Wildcat’s habitat.
  • Elite Trait, Final Roar, and Championship battle, the battles will take place in random locations.
    • For the 2024 battles, these random locations include the tidal glacier (where a glacier meets the ocean), the pelagic realm (open ocean), the peatland, and the woodland savannah.
  • There is a wildcard battle to make it into the bracket.
    • Students needed some extra direction on this last year. They will need to make an additional pick to see who gets into the bracket. In the 2024 tournament, the Rainbow Grasshopper and the Sparklemuffin Peacock Spider battle for the 16 seed to “play” the Painted Wild Dog.

Here’s a video tutorial that explains how to fill out the MMM bracket. It was really helpful to me last year! NOTE: The video has students place the seed number on the line to show the winner. That was a bit confusing for some students so I would highly recommend students write the name of the winner instead.

To avoid temptation to change their picks after the battle has taken place, I recommend having students fill out the bracket in PEN or submit a photo of their bracket. This helps to avoid changes after the bracket has been submitted.

3. Research!!

Students will need some time to research the animals and complete their bracket. I gave them two class periods. Students who wanted more time were able to work on the bracket at home. All brackets had to be completed before the Wild Card battle.

Below are some ideas for simple research (that your students will enjoy):

  1. Last year, I let my students work in pairs/small groups to conduct research for each battle. Since I didn’t want to spend more than 2 days, I gave them the basic combatant info slide from MMM to get started. It helped them get familiar with the animal and gave them a place to start. They actually WANTED to learn more about the animals and had tons of interesting insight! It was really fun to listen to them debate the merits of one animal over another in battle!
  2. Assign each student to research on an animal in a Google Slide deck. When finished, students can use the compiled information to make their bracket selections. The Crowdsourced Educator Resources have TONS of materials that you can use for ideas!
  3. Trading cards are another fun way to research animals for the tournament.

4. Tumbling blocks are another fun for students to learn more about each animal. Plus, they make a great display! You can get a copy of the template inside the free resource library. Just drop your email into the link below!

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My students loved listening to the MMM playlist on Spotify while researching last year. New this year, someone created a YouTube March Mammal Madness Playlist that I can’t wait to try!

4. Watch the battle and score your bracket!

The MMM battles play out on Twitter twice a week (MMM calendar). The Twitter battle is very in-depth, which is great for higher grades but we ended up skipping the Twitter feed and waiting an extra day to see the action on the YouTube channel! The kids found it more enjoyable and easier to understand. Plus, the videos are quick and entertaining – usually 5 minutes or less.

On days we did MMM, I skipped our science warm up to save time.

After watching each video, I had students circle or highlight the winners and X out the losing mammal. It was very easy for them to do!

Scoring Options

My sixth graders had an easy time scoring our brackets on paper. We tallied the points each time we watched a video so it didn’t get overwhelming.

If you’re interested in automated scoring, I’ve seen (but not tried) these options:

New to 2024….. the BUSTED BRACKETEERS

Sometimes the champion you picked is out by the second round….

This year after the second round is over, you can join the “busted bracketeers”.

This new bracket will be available to fill out starting with the Sweet 16. Use what you’ve learned to select a new champion and try again!

Ready to join the MMM fun?

If you’ve been seeing the hype about March Mammal Madness, but haven’t been sure how to incorporate it into your classroom, I hope this post gave you some ideas.

March Mammal Madness may seem overwhelming at first, but your students can participate and enjoy the tournament without sacrificing lots of class time.

You’ll be surprised at the level of engagement this activity will bring to your classroom and how much your students will enjoy learning about the natural world!

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