Teaching & Learning

This 2nd Grade Class Picked One of the Best March Madness Brackets in the Nation

By Caitlynn Peetz — April 17, 2024 2 min read
UConn guard Hassan Diarra (10) scores past Purdue guard Myles Colvin (5) during the second half of the NCAA college Final Four championship basketball game on April 8, 2024, in Glendale, Ariz.
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What are the odds that a class of 2nd graders filled out a better March Madness bracket than you?

Surprisingly good, actually.

Like more than 23 million other people, the 18 2nd grade students in Matt Falcone’s class at Olive Chapel Elementary School in Apex, N.C., filled out an NCAA basketball tournament bracket in early March. But while millions of people watched their picks lose and their brackets get busted, Falcone’s students spent the next three weeks watching their bracket rise in the rankings—all the way up to fifth place in the entire country on ESPN’s bracket leaderboard for the men’s tournament.

“It really was a shock for all of us,” Falcone said Wednesday in an interview with Education Week. “This thing that I thought was just going to be a little fun turned out to be super duper amazing—more than I ever expected.”

Of the 61 matchups in the bracket, the class picked 49 right, and nearly all of the games they got wrong were in the tournament’s opening round.

There was no science or trick to the kid’s picks, Falcone said. It was much the opposite, actually.

For each game, Falcone asked the group to, with a show of hands, choose between the two teams. Whichever one received the majority of the votes advanced in the bracket.

Usually, students picked local teams, like Duke and North Carolina State, or their parents’ alma maters. Sometimes, they chose the team with the better mascot. To break the few ties that happened, Falcone simply flipped a coin.

“It really came down to just a vibe check, like, what is everyone feeling like going with, and when we were done, I looked at it and was like, ‘This is definitely a bracket made by 2nd graders,’ but it didn’t matter, it will still be fun,” Falcone said. “Then, it just kept being right and moving up and up in the rankings.”

2nd grade students in Matt Falcone’s class at Olive Chapel Elementary School in Apex, N.C., picked 49 of the 61 winners in the NCAA basketball tournament.

Olive Chapel is a year-round elementary school in the Wake County public school system, so instead of one long summer break, students are dismissed for shorter breaks more frequently. One of those breaks came as the tournament progressed, and, rather than unplugging completely from work, Falcone was excited to post updates on the bracket’s progress for families and students.

The bracket exercise was just intended to be fun and wasn’t tied to lessons. Truthfully, Falcone said he never expected his class to have so much success.

But it just goes to show that even when the odds are slim—the NCAA describes the odds of choosing a perfect bracket as “practically zero"—sometimes they’re in your favor.

The experience has also reinforced for the students that there’s no harm in trying something new, Falcone said.

“It’s like, whatever happens, happens, and if it’s something good, that’s fantastic and if it’s something bad, at least we tried,” he said. “I think it’s taught them a little bit about never giving up because you never know what can happen.”

Although the class won’t get any official rewards from the NCAA for its fifth-place finish, Falcone said he plans to celebrate with his students when they return from break next week, perhaps with a pizza party, or maybe ice cream sundaes.

As for Falcone’s bracket that he filled out individually, without his students?

“It was garbage,” he said. “I definitely needed the class.”

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