Going beyond the bracket: Neoga teacher exposing students to higher ed through basketball

NEOGA, Ill. (WCIA) — It can be tough to pull students away from phones and other screens during class. It can be even trickier this time of year with March Madness. But, in Cumberland County, those basketball games are at the forefront of learning for one teacher who’s taking it all “beyond the bracket.”

Amy Kepp, a 6th and 7th grade teacher in Neoga, is introducing her students to the world of “bracketology” and bringing the competition into her classroom.

Each grade makes a bracket and earns a point for each win they correctly predict.

“We’ve gotten a pretty good winning streak,” Masen Waterman, a sixth grader, said.

It’s much bigger than only tallying up the wins and losses.

“I can throw in research, I can throw in math, I can throw in writing,” Kepp explained.

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Each student researched a different school. They had to answer questions about the acceptance rates, classes offered, tuition amounts, how many students go there, and even a bit about the history and mascot.

Waterman researched Samford University, while his classmate Lucy Haarman studied Texas A&M and Dayton.

“I’m honestly surprised on how much the out-of-state tuition is,” Waterman said. “That’s a big number.”

Each aspect of the project is truly a “slam dunk” for Kemp.

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“They love to talk about basketball, they love to talk about what’s in the news, and this is a great way to bring current events into the classroom,” she said.

For students like Haarman, she enjoys it because it’s different than the typical classroom activities.

No matter what, they’re making sure the friendly competition between grades never dies.

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“It’s been really fun,” Waterman said. “It’s been tight and it’s been going off and on. It could be anyone’s game!”

Kepp hopes they take away skills they can apply to their brackets and their college searches in the future. Between the 6th and 7th graders, whoever wins gets to watch a movie and have a donut party.

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