March Mammal Madness

“The glaze.” It’s how this article refers to the wandering mind and the common thought that science can be less than entertaining.

There’s been a recent effort to combine comedy and science as a means to connect with the public and make it “much more approachable, accessible and egalitarian…”

Photo by Sam Carter on Unsplash

In the lactation world, there’s a brilliant form of this marriage of fun and facts: March Mammal Madness (MMM) created by Dr. Katie Hinde in 2013.

Arizona State University’s (ASU) site describes the game this way: “Inspired by (but in no way affiliated with or representing) the NCAA College Basketball March Madness Championship Tournament, March Mammal Madness is an annual tournament of *simulated* combat competition among mammals. Scientific literature is cited to substantiate likely outcomes as a probabilistic function of the two species’ attributes within the battle environment. Attributes considered in calculating battle outcome include temperament, weaponry, armor, body mass, running speed, fight style, physiology, and motivation.

Hinde created MMM with the goal of making science fun.  

“I think it’s a chance to return to that time when science was all about the imagination and the wonder at the natural world…Science is narrative, and that is incredibly salient to the human mind,” NPR’s Kat Lonsdorf reports Hinde saying.

Educators have appreciated this sentiment; a couple years back, 250 teachers reported using the game in their classrooms.

Lindsey Brant of South Stark Career Academy in Ohio has been using MMM in her Small Animal Science and Care program since its inception.

As soon as the bracket is released, Brant assigns each of her students one of the animals to research.  

“They will collaboratively put together a slideshow that has a list of strengths/weakness, adaptations, habitat, weapons, etc.,” she explains.  “Almost like a ‘Pokemon’ card for their animal. I have students present these to the rest of the class in pairs as they would appear in the first battles.”

She goes on: “Each student will be able to fill their bracket out at least for the first round by listening to the presentations. Then they are on their own to make future predictions.

Every year, Brant and her students decide on a prize for whomever’s bracket earns the most points.  

“In previous years I have bought a fancy meal for the winner, given homework exemptions, bonus points on tests, etc.,” she says. “We haven’t determined what this year’s prize will be.  Food is generally what they want.

While MMM is at its core, amusing, it of course serves the greater purpose of exploration.

Brant says she appreciates most the uniqueness of the battling animals.

I love that most of the animals that appear in the brackets are animals that a lot of my students have never heard of,” she says. “It excites them to learn about new organisms.”

She continues: “Last year the tardigrade was a fun addition.  It was always a cliffhanger, wondering what was going to happen to that cute little water bear.  The kids all love that he was just present in every battle and that he just kept on after everything was done, returning back to his habitat.”

MMM finds students on a platform familiar to them: social media. MMM uses Twitter and uses this as an avenue to connect with her students.

“I participate as well in the Twitter battles,” she explains. “And the students enjoy seeing some of my comments pop up during the play by plays.”

There’s a healthy dose of competition during MMM too.

“We …. love the trash talk from all the squirrel lovers every year,” Brant laughs.

For more coverage on MMM check out:

Hinde’s blog

National Geographic


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