Return to Headlines

Mammal Madness in Middle School

The debate was heated - would it be the thorny devil versus the dugón or the blue-capped ifrit versus the anchovy? This isn’t a science fiction book that middle school science students were analyzing; rather it was a March Madness-style bracket featuring mammals instead of NCAA basketball teams.

“I really liked this project because it was a mix of work and fun,” says Santiago Robles, the ultimate winner of the Mammal Madness competition at Somers Middle School.

The fun lesson was created by professors at Arizona State University, who run the competition annually. They select 64 animals to compete in virtual combat and keep a running commentary on a website and social media channels. The students in Monica Manko and Tim Wilbert’s classes researched the animals together, then submitted their individual picks by filling out the competition bracket.

“Many of the animals none of us had ever heard of before,” says Manko. “The simulated battles were based on biological facts with a few upsets thrown in to add to the fun. It gave us a bit of excitement, which was much needed during this COVID year.”

The animal attributes that students considered when calculating battle outcomes included temperament, weaponry, armor, body mass, running speed, fight style, physiology, and motivation. Not all battles were mortal. In some cases, an animal won because it displaced the other at a key food source. The project lasted for one month, with videos of the battles richly narrated by scientists.

“We got to watch the video in the beginning of science class to see which animals won the battle,” says third-place winner Allison Cabo, “And then we would finish the rest of class afterward.”

The students learned a great deal about dozens of obscure mammals.

“I learned that the blue-capped ifrit's feathers are toxic and there was a huge anchovy named the Saber tooth anchovy that lived about 50 million years ago, says Robles.”

In the end, the 2021 Mammal Madness Champion was the red kangaroo, who beat the harpy eagle by a fictional stream bed in Australia. Never fear – the eagle lived to fight another battle, and the competition will live on at Somers Middle School. The teachers say the project was such a success they plan to make it an annual tradition.
The above-mentioned bracket winners, along with second-place finisher Claire Higgins, each received a wooden plaque made by technology teacher Rich DeVito.