South Orangetown Central School District

Who is the greatest American of all time? Seventh-graders in Social Studies teachers James Amandola’s and Sarah Kukla’s classes are researching historical figures to make their case. Over the course of the next few weeks, students are developing thesis statements for research papers that they will present in a competitive match up, culminating in the final match between the top candidate from Amandola’s and Kukla’s classes.

Amandola, who co-teaches his third period class (pictured below) with Special Education teacher Dawn Bongiovanni, noted that the timing aligns with an ELA persuasive writing unit, which allows for cross-curricular skills transfer and reinforcement. “The last time my students wrote a persuasive essay, it was about chocolate milk in fifth grade. Now, they are being challenged to produce a research project that approaches high school level–and they are doing an impressive job,” he said.

The March Madness bracket for the GOAT competition is posted outside of Kukla’s classroom at South Orangetown Middle School and digitally, with links to student projects. Each round, students and teachers vote to determine which historical figure will advance.

Jacob K. and Ella A. are working together to prove that American Astronomer Carl Sagan is the most influential American historical figure. “Carl Sagan is extremely influential because he laid the groundwork for space missions. His educational tv show, “Cosmos” opened up a whole new world for people to learn about space. He invested a lot of time in his work and his discoveries are still used today,” said Ella.

Game elements, such as competitive brackets and team work, are used by educators to boost engagement and test skills and knowledge. Having fun goals and achievements to strive for makes learning compelling for students and supports absorption of new content. “We have been doing this project for over 5 years now and the students are always so engaged,” said Amandola. “By making a fun project like this, students are motivated to do well since it’s a competition.”

SOMS March Madness Project