Meet the members of Delphi Bracketology—a high school club that uses data science to generate highly-accurate March Madness brackets. In this short film, see how these young sports fans went from amateurs to formidable bracketologists—gaining some key skills along the way.
(cheerful music) - [Narrator] Data is everywhere. It helps us solve problems and better understand the world. But data itself isn't a solution. It's what people do with it that matters. - Data science to me is analyzing information to it's truth, to whether it's good or bad, and then the real thing is how do you apply that in decision making. - [Narrator] Data driven decisions happen at work, in your personal life, and even in sports.
Think about college basketball and March madness. Teams are seeded or ranked using data. And data determines which teams play each other in the tournament. - [Brian] The data is the reason we have the brackets because that's the criteria set up by the NCAA. - [Narrator] One group of passionate sports fans got together and studied those criteria. They wanted to figure out how to predict the bracket before it was released by a selection committee. - They use a series of statistics, and they don't have a detailed this is first, this is second.
So, the trick of our group is to try to figure out which set of data is the priority. - [Narrator] In March 2016, their group entered an online bracket competition and proved that the data matters. These first time entrants beat out over 100 sports experts. But the winners weren't professionals. They're a high school bracketology club that used data science to generate the most accurate brackets ever submitted to the competition. (upbeat music) The champs are from Delphi Community High School in a small town about 75 miles outside of Indianapolis.
Their facilitator, Brian Tonsoni, is a social studies teacher at the school. He's also a former basketball coach. And like many Hoosiers, he's a huge basketball fan. - Eh. - Oh. - But there's a lot-- - A few years ago, Brian organized this club as a fun way to talk hoops with is students. - I joined the club because it gave me a option to talk sports. I'm a four sport athlete at Delphi, and so I enjoy sports. I enjoy the competitiveness, and I just enjoy watching it. - I believe you learn a lot when you're interested in something.
And when you're interested in something, you will go beyond what you're scheduled to do. - You know, we have to be here at 7:30. Often times I'd be here at 7:20. Those boys every Tuesday were here in the dark with their backpacks. And it was just so cool to see them here before any of us had to be here. - I just love sports in general. So, anything I can talk about sports at school with my buddies, that's a no brainer for me to get up that early.
- And so, that's how the club started was just an interaction, a relationship that I had had with a couple students, knowing their interests and having some time to talk to them as opposed to that bell to bell instruction. It led to what I think has just been an incredible three year run of fun and then learning happening because of that. (gentle music) - [Narrator] With the Bracketology Club, Brian uses a project based to learning. There's no pressure of a grade, and the students are studying real world subject matter that they're passionate about.
This keeps them engaged and invested in the experience. - I think the role of a teacher has to dramatically change to that of a facilitator, someone who inspires someone to learn as opposed to a disseminator of information. - Most of the time, unfortunately, in school settings we always tell them what the outcome is going to be as teachers. However, when they look at data, they have to learn it on their own. They have to talk about it, they have to analyze it, they have to look at old data, current data, and then try to predict the future.
It's so nice to be able to give them information and have them figure out what the outcome is. (upbeat music) - When we empower the kids, it's the most wonderful thing in education. It's not a worksheet, it's not a standardized test. It's you're giving them this task, they are taking it and running with it. (upbeat music) I've found that young people love to create. You know, with their cellphones, and Snapchat, and everything, they love to tell stories. And we're creating something different than a video. We're creating a bracket.
And they can see it, and it's tangible, and it's relevant, because it's talked about in the national news, it's on ESPN, and they're doing it. And then when we beat the guys who did it for a living that we used to just watch, then that's a sense of pride. (gentle music) - [Narrator] Data is at the heart of the club, and predicting the selection committee's decisions is their science. - Ultimately, it's the 10 or 12 people in that NCAA room that make the final decision.
It's not the Delphi Bracketology Club. Although, I think we would make a really good bracket if we were tasked with that. - [Daniel] We get the data from WarrenNolan.com. It's a free website that allows really anybody to check the RPI standings. - RPI is a mathematical formula that takes into effect if you won or lost, who you played, your opponents and who they played. - And we use it to really separate teams from one another. - [Jesse] And then we just pretty much put it in a spreadsheet.
We look at top 50 wins, strength of schedule. - And we move all the information and data as we see fit as we analyze it. We're trying to guess how people are going to look at the data, so that we could look at the data the same way and then win the contest. And we can do the same thing that we did last year and come in middle of the pack. This year I expect us to, because every committee's different, and every human being looks at a set of data differently. (upbeat music) In talking to some other bracketologists, that's what we're kind of known as, they've asked me, "Do you think that having a group of people do it led to our success last year?" And I think absolutely.
- My favorite part of the club is everyone interacts with one another, you get everyone's opinion, and we just put that all together, and then we make a final decision based on that. - We have lots of disagreements on seeding, but we don't have an friction, which is awesome. (gentle music) There are many ways to look at it, and that's a strength. When a process is there, then there's no personal feelings of failure. It's not a minus seven.
It's, "You're doing a great job. "We're just going to go a different direction." (upbeat music) - You guys heard us talking about it this morning. I'm not too highly on Gonzaga as a one seed, but the majority votes, and so I live with what we put. If they all agree, then I'm in agreement. (laughs) - [Brian] The rapport has been great between the students for the three years that we've done it. And again, it think it's this common interest. - [Narrator] The club allows Brian to create learning opportunities outside of the classroom.
Members learn to think critically and communicate effectively. - There are so many skills embedded with the content, because we've given them a chance to speak, to hear an argument. "What do you think," is a great question for young people. "What's your opinion?" - You definitely want to keep some of those smaller games in, keep the small schools active, keep their programs interested in wanting to play bigger schools. Mr. Tonsoni thought it would be a good idea to start having a weekly podcast.
He just kind of uses it as a way to get out what our thinking was for our bracket. And it kind of just expanded into having us really develop into talking. - At the beginning I really didn't like the podcast 'cause I was really shy, didn't really talk, but after a while I got used to it. - When he was a freshman, I mean, he barely spoke. But I have noticed with Jesse just an added confidence. - Used to before I dreaded presentations in classrooms.
But now I feel like I can do that because it's got me to get out of my shell a lot. - The soft skills need to be reinforced day in and day out by people that students respect. And this club has given me that opportunity. And I've seen just some great results. And so, I'm proud of that, tremendously. And I'm proud to be a soft skill guy. (upbeat music) - [Narrator] All of their skills were put to the test when they entered the bracket matrix competition. They were confident about their work, but the results still surprised everyone.
- There are several things in life that people will remember as big events. And as silly as it sounds, winning the bracket matrix was one of the biggest things to happen to me professionally. I think it was one of the biggest things, obviously, in a young person's life. - We didn't expect to win, to be honest. I didn't at least. We just did it for fun, for the most part. - I just sat on the couch and just stared at disbelief. We got 20 of the first 20 teams right, and they just kept coming. And we were just all shellshocked at what was happening before our eyes.
- [Narrator] After winning the contest and earning the highest score ever, the club got a lot of positive attention for their accomplishments. Even CBS Sports came out to cover the story. - Within one week we go from a group of guys meeting on a couch watching the selection show to being on national television in the height of the very tournament that we made the bracket for. And then I'll get emotional, seeing your kids on national TV, it was remarkable. (upbeat music) - [Narrator] Publicly, news of their success was shared and celebrated with everyone.
But it also had a personal impact for each member of the group. - I learned to read numbers a lot. It certainly helped me in math in my second semester after we won it. - I'm a little bit more excited to branch out and meet new people. I'm not so shy as to go out and say hello to someone or to go ask a girl for their number, pre say. (laughs) But it's definitely a lot of fun. - I mean, they smile more which is such a simple thing. But they smile more, I think that it showed that they were pretty proud of what they had done.
- I want to do stuff in our social studies classes that has been successful with the bracketology. How do you make historical information as relevant and fun as current basketball information? If I find that secret, I'm probably going to sell it, (laughs) and retire. - [Narrator] At the time of filming, the club is hard at work collecting and studying data for the current basketball season. Can they repeat what happened last year? - The pressure's on, we feel it a little bit. And just like a guy shooting a free throw with two seconds to go with the game on the line, maybe we pull it a little bit to the left or push it to the right, but ultimately, it's about the guys.
(upbeat music) The real scoreboard is how this impacts them down the road in their real life. Almost everything in the world right now is facts and information, and application of those facts and information. And so, we need people to be ready for it and to be able to be employed and do a good job in their evaluation and application. - We kind of looked at it as just it gave us an option to talk sports. And we didn't really realize how much it was going to imply into real life strategies like data and speech, and just kind of a reason to get up early. (laughs)