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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...

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.

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.


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.

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2010 National Geographic Bee State Winners


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Matthew Wilson, 5th Grade, Blessed Sacrament School


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Thomas Naatz, 6th Grade, Norwood School, Bethesda


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Alexander Wade, 6th Grade, Davidson Academy, Reno


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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.

More posts by Ford Cochran

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Author Photo David Max Braun
More than forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Max Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. In his 22-year career at National Geographic he was VP and editor in chief of National Geographic Digital Media, and the founding editor of the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directed the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. A regular expert on National Geographic Expeditions, David also lectures on storytelling for impact. He has 120,000 followers on social media: Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn