For at least the last 24 years, the National Geographic Society has conducted the annual Geographic Bee in the U.S. to promote the study of geography.
This year the National Champion will receive a $25,000 college scholarship, a trip to the Galapagos Islands and lifetime membership in the Society. The 2nd and 3rd place national winners will receive $15,000 and $10,000 college scholarships respectively. This year’s national Bee will be held at the Society in Washington, D.C., May 22-24, 2012 and will be shown live on the National Geographic Channel on cable television.
Each state has its own Bee to select its candidate for the national competition. This year’s state competitions were held on March 30th. Minnesota’s was at St. Cloud State University for 100 fourth through eighth graders who won their local schools’ competitions and who were the highest scorers on a written examination out a field of 500. Here was the makeup of this year’s 100 Minnesota contestants: fourth graders, 3; fifth graders, 6; sixth graders, 9; seventh graders, 23; and eighth graders, 59. Only 7 of the 100 were girls.
The Minnesota Bee started with four Preliminary Rounds. The 15 top scorers in those four sessions with perfect scores of 8 were then assembled for a Tiebreaker Round to select the top 10 individuals for the Final Round, two of whom were girls. These 10 were questioned, and eventually only two individuals were left for the Championship Round. More questions were addressed to the two contestants until one individual was eliminated, leaving the other as the state champion. The deciding question was “Name the Baltic country that replaced its currency (the kroon) in early 2011 with the Euro, becoming the most recent country to join the eurozone?” (Correct answer: Estonia.)
The Minnesota State Champion this year was Gopi Ramanathan, an 8th grader from Sartell Middle School; he also was the State Champion in 2010 and the second-place state winner in 2011. The second-place winner this year was William Bogenschultz, an 8th grader from Ramsey Junior High School in St. Paul; he was the State Champion in 2011 and the second-place state winner in 2010.
The procedures for the Bee are very detailed and very fair as were the questions.
For example, in the Preliminary Round that I observed, there were 21 contestants, who were randomly assigned numbers 1 through 21 and who were then questioned in that order. For each of eight rounds of questions after an initial practice round, the moderator announced the type of question that would be asked. For example, the first round was a set of questions asking which of two named states in the U.S. had a certain characteristic. She then asked questions, and the contestant had 15 seconds to answer. One of the questions in the first round was “Which state has the longer shoreline, Maryland or New Hampshire?” (Correct answer: Maryland.) The questions got more difficult with each passing round. In the eighth and final round the questions were about political geography, and one of the questions was “What southeastern Asian country near the Gulf of Tonkin was reunited in 1976, Myanmar or Vietnam?” (Correct answer: Vietnam.)
Similar procedures were followed in the Tiebreaker, Final and Championship Rounds with increasingly more difficult questions.
Before the start of questioning in the Final Round, a film “What will you do with geography?” was shown. It had brief comments by a number of people whose jobs required knowledge of different types of geographical subjects. I learned a lot about this topic from the film and thought it was answering a question that many of the contestants and their parents probably had.
I attended the Minnesota Bee because my grandson, Elliott, a sixth grader at Lakes International Language Academy (LILA) in the town of Forest Lake, was one of the 100 contestants. Afterwards Elliot said that this year’s competition would help him prepare for next year’s BEE. (Last Spring as a fifth grader, he prepared a presentation at his school about Libya and the NATO bombing,)