The objective of horticulture plant identification courses is to assist students in learning many different plant species. There is a significant amount of information that can be disseminated in those courses. The HORT 375 Landscape Plants II course at Kansas State University (KSU) in Manhattan focuses primarily on learning common landscape plant genera and species, from woody plants to herbaceous plants. Lecture-style teaching methods are common in college courses, including plant identification courses. Common feedback from some students regarding the identification courses is that learning plant after plant, as the semester progresses, can be boring and monotonous. This can be especially true after having already had the Landscape Plants I course the previous semester. A significant focus for the plant identification courses at KSU has been to implement diverse learning activities, including student-centered learning and active learning methods to encourage student engagement and diversify the typical plant identification course. Deeter (2003) reported positive student feedback from increased student-centered learning activity incorporation.
For several weeks during the spring academic semester, primarily March, many people, including students, are seemingly consumed with March Madness, the annual National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I men’s and women’s basketball tournament (Geiling, 2014; Wilco, 2019). With an understanding of Bracketology [an activity of predicting participants and outcomes of games in a sports tournament (e.g., the NCAA basketball tournament)], students fill out brackets and subsequently cheer for their favorite sports teams and players in the tournament. In the workplace, it has been reported that March Madness negatively affects workplace productivity, with employees spending upward of 6 paid hours focused on the tournament (Morris, 2018) and costs employers an estimated $1.9 billion in wages (Bukszpan, 2015). However, reports also show that despite negative perceptions of March Madness, it can be beneficial to a company, providing workplace cohesiveness (Smith and Smith, 2011; Smith et al., 2011) in the long term. We are unaware of any reports quantifying positive or negative effects of March Madness in the classroom. Based on personal observations, for some students, maintaining their undivided attention to their studies, whether it is in class or outside of class is challenging over those several weeks in March. Anecdotally, significant distractions in the classroom have been observed, whether it be students slyly watching live streams on a mobile device, reviewing brackets, or skipping class and laboratory periods entirely.
Use of March Madness tournament brackets and teaching in the classroom has been reported (Doyne and Schulten, 2010). Similarly, an activity was designed for the Landscape Plants II course at KSU called Plant Madness. This game was modeled after the industry game, Shrub Madness, by Proven Winners Color Choice (Proven Winners, Sycamore, IL), which is also based on the NCAA March Madness. One objective of the Plant Madness game was to expose and provide additional, active learning opportunities for students to recognize and be aware of new plant selections and cultivars in the industry, or other important species that may not be so new, that are not covered in the class curriculum. Additional activity objectives were to provide an alternative public speaking experience and an opportunity for students to be creative and have fun, while building on the March Madness atmosphere, a significant college experience for many.
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