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State champs advance to Geographic Bee finals

By Ford Cochran

They know that Kiswahili is spoken in Kenya, that the Vistula River flows north to the Baltic Sea, that weddings mixing Shinto and Western traditions have become the rage in Japan. They know to look for Lassen Peak in California, Uncompahgre Peak in Colorado, and Swiss Guards, not in Switzerland, but at the Vatican.

That’s why they’re Geographic Bee state champs, and they’re headed to Washington, D.C. See the full list of the 2010 National Geographic Bee state champions below.

Thousands of 4th-through 8th-grade students from more than 12,000 schools and homeschool associations across the U.S. matched wits today to represent their states, D.C., U.S. territories, and Department of Defense schools at the National Geographic Bee finals. Jeopardy host Alex Trebek will moderate the championship round here at Society headquarters on May 26th.

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Thirteen-year-old Eric Yang (right) of Texas swept the 2009 National Geographic Bee with a perfect score. Oregon’s Arjun Kandaswamy (left), 14, came in second place.

Photograph by Rebecca Hale, NGS

More than six million students compete in the National Geographic Bee each year. In order to vie in today’s contests, they needed to win bees in their schools last November, then earn top marks on a tough written exam. Just 54 earn a spot at the national finals.

I asked Mary Lee Elden, who has directed the National Geographic Bee since its inception more than 20 years ago, to share her thoughts on what it takes to master the Bee.

Kids who make it this far understand that geography is about connections, not just place names. Though the contest includes questions with one-word answers, the Bee staff works hard to make them thinking questions, with clues to help students deduce the answers.

How do Bee winners prepare?

National-Geographic-Bee.jpgIn most cases, the winning students have been into geography for a long time–long by the standard of 11-, 12-, 13-year-olds. They love to read everything they can about the world: Newspapers, books, National Geographic magazine, our website, and more. It’s their passion.

Parents of finalists will often tell me that their kids loved maps from a very young age–three or four years old. And those parents gave them maps, encouraged them, encouraged that interest. Children with a natural interest thrive on their parents’ encouragement, and most of the students we see competing at the championship level were lucky enough to get it early on.

Good teachers make great facilitators, too, helping students do their best and pursue their interests, while giving them the confidence to show what they know.

What advice would you give students who hope to become Geographic Bee champions–or anyone who wants to become more geographically literate?

Read. Read everything you can get your hands on. Read a newspaper.

When you encounter a place you haven’t heard of, find out where the place is. When you learn about a problem somewhere, find out why it’s a problem, and why there, not somewhere else. Make the connections between places, issues, and events. Things happen for a reason, and often the reason is geography.

In addition to some fame and serious bragging rights, what will the U.S. National Geographic Bee champion win this year?

The champion gets a $25,000 scholarship, National Geographic’s Collegiate Atlas of the World, lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society (which includes a life-long subscription to National Geographic magazine), and a trip to the Galapagos Islands courtesy of National Geographic’s travel partner, Lindblad Expeditions. Google and Plum Creek presented the state bees this year, and a teacher from the national champion’s school district will also get an expenses-paid trip to Google’s California headquarters to participate in their 2010 Google Teacher Academy.

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2009 National Geographic Bee champion Eric Yang (center).

Photograph by Rebecca Hale, NGS

How have past Geographic Bee finalists and champions put their global smarts to use?

This is the Bee’s 22nd year, so many of the early participants have gone on to college, graduate school, and the beginnings of their careers. Our first few champions went on to medical school and became doctors. A few have come to Capital Hill and are working in politics. Our 2001 winner, Kyle Haddad-Fonda, just graduated from Harvard with a Rhodes scholarship that’s taking him to Oxford. Some have gone into international relations, as Kyle plans to do. Anders Knospe, the 1994 national champion, is getting his PhD in physics.

I stay in touch with many of the winners. Whatever they’re doing, all of them tell me this: Geography is the love of their lives.

Take the GeoBee Challenge

2010 National Geographic Bee State Winners

ALABAMA

James Niiler, 6th Grade, Rock Quarry Middle School, Tuscaloosa

ALASKA

Nathan Swan, 7th Grade, Interior Distance Education of Alaska – Anchorage

ARIZONA

Arun Yadav, 5th Grade, Greenbriar Elementary School, Glendale

ARKANSAS

Grant Baker, 8th Grade, Alma Middle School, Alma

ATLANTIC TERRITORIES

Jorge Asenjo, 8th Grade, Academia del Perpetuo Socorro, San Juan

CALIFORNIA

Alek Venturino, 8th Grade, Charlotte Wood Middle School, Danville

COLORADO

Isabella Contolini, 6th Grade, Red Rocks Elementary School, Morrison

CONNECTICUT

Darius Mostaghimi, 8th Grade, Walter C. Polson Middle School, Madison

DELAWARE

Varun Wadhwa, 7th Grade, The Independence School, Newark

DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE DEPENDENTS SCHOOLS

William Miller, 7th Grade, Heidelberg Middle School, Heidelberg, Germany

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

Matthew Wilson, 5th Grade, Blessed Sacrament School

FLORIDA

Aadith Moorthy, 8th Grade, Palm Harbor Middle School, Palm Harbor

GEORGIA

Pranav Bhandarkar, 8th Grade, Malcom Bridge Middle School, Bogart

HAWAII

Alexander Fager, 8th Grade, Our Savior Lutheran School, Aiea

IDAHO

Karthik Mouli, 6th Grade, Hillside Junior High School, Boise

ILLINOIS

Anton Karpovich, 8th Grade, Walter R. Sundling Junior High School, Palatine

INDIANA

Ian Markham, 8th Grade, Nativity of Our Savior Catholic School, Portage

IOWA

Johannes Gassman, 7th Grade, Ames Homeschool Assistance Program, Ames

KANSAS

Stefan Petrovic, 6th Grade, Broken Arrow Elementary School, Lawrence

KENTUCKY

Nolan Phillips, 8th Grade, Montessori Middle School of Kentucky, Lexington

LOUISIANA

James Stoner, 6th Grade, Christian Brothers School, New Orleans

MAINE

James Davis III, 8th Grade, Sabattus Central School, Sabattus

MARYLAND

Thomas Naatz, 6th Grade, Norwood School, Bethesda

MASSACHUSETTS

Abhinav Kurada, 6th Grade, Advanced Math and Science Academy, Marlborough

MICHIGAN

Jacob Tanner, 7th Grade, Saline Middle School, Saline

MINNESOTA

Gopi Ramanathan, 6th Grade, Sartell Middle School, Sartell

MISSISSIPPI

Mamadou Fadiga, 8th Grade, Margaret Green Junior High School, Cleveland

MISSOURI

Joshua Vogel, 7th Grade, Trinity Lutheran School, Cape Girardeau

MONTANA

Erik Ellis, 8th Grade, Yellowstone County Home Educators, Hardin

NEBRASKA

Zebulon Cooper, 8th Grade, Prague Public School, Prague

NEVADA

Alexander Wade, 6th Grade, Davidson Academy, Reno

NEW HAMPSHIRE

David Ferreira, 8th Grade, Amherst Middle School, Amherst

NEW JERSEY

David Yin, 8th Grade, Thomas R. Grover Middle School, Princeton Junction

NEW MEXICO

Joseph Couls, 7th Grade, Our Lady of the Annunciation School, Albuquerque

NEW YORK

Richard Zhang, 8th Grade, Jericho Middle School, Jericho

NORTH CAROLINA

Logan Shaut, 8th Grade, Blowing Rock Elementary School, Blowing Rock

NORTH DAKOTA

Micah Mabin, 8th Grade, Wachter Middle School, Bismarck

OHIO

Evan Nichols, 7th Grade, St. Hilary School, Fairlawn

OKLAHOMA

Nicholas Payne, 8th Grade, Pioneer Junior High School, Waukomis

OREGON

Samuel Coste, 7th Grade, Greater Salem Home Educators, Salem

PACIFIC TERRITORIES

Matteo Tanaka, 8th Grade, Bishop Baumgartner Memorial Catholic School, Guam

PENNSYLVANIA

Jacob Zimmer, 7th Grade, James S. Wilson Middle School, Erie

RHODE ISLAND

Oliver Lucier, 8th Grade, Curtis Corner Middle School, Wakefield

SOUTH CAROLINA

Kelvin Davis, 6th Grade, Williston-Elko Middle School, Williston

SOUTH DAKOTA

Alex Kimn, 7th Grade, George S. Mickelson Middle School, Brookings

TENNESSEE

Simon Crow, 8th Grade, Robertsville Middle School, Oak Ridge

TEXAS

Tiné Valencic, 6th Grade, Colleyville Middle School, Colleyville

UTAH

Anthony Cheng, 6th Grade, Peruvian Park Elementary School, Sandy

VERMONT

William Hodgson-Walker, 7th Grade, Charlotte Central School, Charlotte

VIRGINIA

James Stiff, 8th Grade, St. Mary’s Catholic School, Richmond

WASHINGTON

Alec Sjoholm, 6th Grade, Terrace Park Elementary School, Mountlake Terrace

WEST VIRGINIA

Andrew Braun, 8th Grade, Hurricane Middle School, Hurricane

WISCONSIN

Vansh Jain, 6th Grade, Minocqua-Hazelhurst-Lake Tomahawk Elementary School, Minocqua

WYOMING

Zachery Dubisz, 8th Grade, Star Valley Middle School, Afton

Ford-Cochran.jpgFord Cochran directs Mission Programs online for National Geographic. He has written for National Geographic magazine and NG Books, and edits BlogWild–a digest of Society exploration, research, and events–and the Ocean Now blog. Ford studied English literature at the College of William and Mary and biogeochemistry at Harvard and Yale, with a focus on volcanoes, forests, and long-term controls on atmospheric CO2. He was an assistant professor of geology and environmental science at the University of Kentucky before joining the National Geographic staff.

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