A commentary piece on CNN.com hones in on Josh Hoekstra, a U.S. history teacher in Minneapolis who has found a way to captivate his students’ attention: His teaching curriculum, called Teach With Tournaments, is modeled after college basketball’s March Madness tournament. The curriculum aims to immerse and engage students in the lives of historical figures through a similar competitive tournament that goes on throughout the school year.
This past year in Teach With Tournaments, students picked a historical figure, researched his or her accomplishments, and then prepared to argue why that person was the “most courageous figure in U.S. history.” The students’ choices were paired off in the bracket system, and winners had to use new arguments to move through each round.
Hoekstra told CNN that his students became emotionally invested in the game as they researched their figures and competed with one another. “Kids who ‘hate history’ are the ones who never were exposed to the human side of the people they are studying,” said Hoekstra, who teaches at Rosemount High School.
A student who researched Tom Burnett, one of the heroes of Flight 93 on September 11, cried when she lost in the first round because she had “become deeply connected” to this figure, said Hoekstra. “To see this type of passion from a 16-year-old girl in a public high school classroom is rewarding beyond words,” he added.
According to Hoekstra, another student, whose father was ill with cancer, was able to identify with the figure he was researching because the war hero had lost his father at a young age. Similarly, a student in the class with special needs felt a strong connection to U.S. Navy SEAL and Medal of Honor recipient Michael Murphy who had once defended a special needs student who was being bullied in school.
Hoekstra also told CNN that Teach With Tournaments is “replicable for any subject or any classroom,” and that many teachers across the country are already using it.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.