For the Glory of Geography



geobee_homepage-logo.gifThis morning, the finals of the National Geographic Bee were held at NG headquarters here in Washington, D.C., as once again, the capital city became the site of a middle school brain drain. So, am I smarter than a 10-yr-old (the youngest age of the Bee finalists)? Well, let’s find out. The final question was:
Timiş County
shares its name with a tributary of the Danube
and is located in the western part of which European country?
My answer: No clue! Well okay, I could make an educated guess. Hungary? The correct response: Romania. Looks like this college grad’s knowledge of world geography pales in comparison to the arsenal those whiz kids are packin’!


The Bee was entertaining and enlightening, as any event hosted by quiz show legend Alex Trebek is destined to be. For instance, when questioned as to why he failed to qualify for the 2008 finals following a berth in 2007, Kennen Sparks of Utah matter-of-factly replied to Trebek–whose greatest accomplishment of the morning was pronouncing the contestants’ names correctly, mind you–“I got nervous.” Good answer!


We learned of the contestants’ diverse extra-geographic interests, from stamp and model plane collecting to dancing to cooking to extreme sports. Of course, as Trebek pointed out, many of the hobbies have geographic connections: certain foods, and the agricultural techniques used to produce them, for example, have been instrumental to the rise of world civilizations.


While it’s humbling to hear about the ambitions of these future world leaders–one hopes to work for the nonprofit Doctors Without Borders, another aspires to become Secretary General of the United Nations–and fun to learn of their idiosyncrasies–e.g. using an empty T.V. box for archery target practice–for the real geography buffs like yours truly, the questions, and the student’s encyclopedic knowledge of their answers, took center stage.


What’s more, this year a number of new props, technologies, and question types helped jazz up the delivery and exalt the contest from the realm of triviality–in case there was ever a doubt. A terra cotta warrior, at first appearing to be an artifact, creaked to life Mr. Roboto-style in celebration of an exhibit debuting next November at National Geographic. In another round, Google Earth was used to simulate plane flights into major world cities, which students were then asked to identify. A menagerie of exotic animals helped contestants answer questions about places like South America and Tasmania, and maps and artifacts took the group on an archaeological adventure with National Geographic’s Research, Conservation, and Exploration division.


Congratulating the students on their accomplishments as the event came to an end–the winner got a trip to the Galapagos, and all three top finalists earned scholarship money and spots on the World Championship team–Trebek concluded that geography is vital in today’s complex society, and that it just may be the key to “world peace.”  I hope someone tells the beauty queens!

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