Knowledge that spans the globe

Middle-schoolers vie to become geography bee champion in a contest designed to foster interest in the subject

Education Beat


When asked to name the landlocked country east of Niger where the Tibesti Mountains are located, Daniel Wesloh took a few seconds to think before scribbling an answer on paper.

Sitting several tables away in the silent cafeteria, Greg Isales also thought for a moment before writing a response.

The correct answer: the African country of Chad.

And with that response, Daniel won the geography bee championship at Oklahoma Road Middle School in Eldersburg.

He and Greg, both seventh-graders, were the finalists out of 14 pupils who participated in the geography bee, answering questions prepared by the National Geographic Society.

Schools across the country participate in the event, which is designed to spark interest in geography and encourage teachers to include geography in their classes, according to the society.

This is the ninth year that social studies teacher Robin Staub said she has run the event at Oklahoma Road Middle.

"There are several elementary schools in the area that have geography clubs," Staub said. "So students have been involved with geography all the way through elementary school and we continue it."

Daniel said he and other pupils had participated in the geography bee in the past. One of them was Mike Cretella, who won the competition two years ago.

"It's sort of challenging and it plays on my strengths," said Mike, an eighth-grader.

He said he's interested in geography and social studies because he wants to major in political science in college. He said he might become a politician.

"The questions were all kind of easy, except the Great Bear Lake one," he said. "But I knew almost every other one besides that."

The group of 14 pupils participated in seven preliminary rounds, and those who answered five or more questions correctly continued on. The questions included ones about continents, countries, cities and bodies of water. The pupils gave written and oral responses and sometimes used a map.

Staub said a lot of this year's questions seemed to relate to current events.

"Sometimes it's the luck of the draw here, guys," Staub said after one pupil was stumped by a question about the European country of Slovenia.

During the second part of the competition, 10 pupils remained and the questions got harder. One by one, they were eliminated after getting two wrong answers.

Some of the questions in the later rounds were read by Cathy Hood, the school's principal.

"Geography is important, and a lot of the time, as a society, we think students aren't learning geography. This is a way to promote it," Hood said.

In the final round, Daniel and Greg each answered two of three written questions correctly. It took six tie-breaker rounds before the decisive question about the Tibesti Mountains was asked.

To minimize pressure on participants, other pupils are not allowed to watch the competition, although parents and teachers are invited, Staub said.

"We try not to make it too much for them," she said. "It's hard; it's a hard test."

Daniel Isales came to watch his son, Greg.

"It's just neat. I'm glad he was doing it," said Isales, of Eldersburg.

Staub said that before the geography bee, teachers tested all sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders. The top two qualifiers from each teaching team were selected to participate.

"I hope it kind of sparks their interest in world geography," Staub said.

Hood said map reading and geography are part of the school's curriculum and are infused into social studies classes.

The school's media center also sponsors a program called U.S.A. Challenge that encourages pupils to learn the location of the 50 states.

"I like the fact that it promotes knowledge of the country," Hood said.

Within a next month, Daniel will take a qualification exam. He will advance to National Geographic's state competition if he answers enough questions correctly.

Staub said that in the past few years several students have made it to state competition, which is held in the spring.

National Geographic also sponsors a national competition in Washington in the spring.

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