Patton student qualifies for National Geography Bee

By JP Phillips, Staff Writer, The Times

Arnab Sircar, an eighth grader at Patton Middle School will compete in the National Geography Bee competition in Washington, D.C..

Arnab Sircar is like many other fourteen-year-olds.  You can find him playing video games, soccer, and tennis.

But there is something very special about him.  He’s good at geography.  Very good.

So good that he competed at a local competition where he qualified for the state contest in Harrisburg.  He went on to topple the 100 best middle-schoolers in the state to represent Pennsylvania in the National Geography Bee, run by the National Geographic Society from May 20th to the 23rd in Washington DC.

Having this type of knowledge is unusual for Americans.  According to an assessment given by the National for Educational Statistics (NAEP) in 2014, 8th-grade students like Arnab typically fall halfway between a basic and proficient understanding of geography.

That’s a grade that shows the need for additional instruction if it were a PSSA.

Unfortunately, that score has remained steady since 1994.   Only around 1 in 4 students ranked proficient or above.

When I think of geography, I think of physical things like oceans, countries, mountains, and rivers.

But that’s not all there is.  Arnab informed me that it also includes topics such as economics, climate, culture and traditions.

“That makes it more interesting,” he said. “Understanding the world, cultures, what they face, helps you understand the problems that we have.  It helps break down barriers.”

He said he thinks that a good understanding of this expanded definition of geography is important for everyone.

Arnab became interested in geography at an early age.  The spark was ignited when his grandfather gave him an atlas in first or second grade.  His mom cultivated his interest, sharing her love of history, geography, and current events.

The atlas he received contained maps with important cities bolded.  Arnab appears to be a visual thinker, so when he is asked about a location, he visualizes that map in his head, including those bolded details.

Arnab has taken many family trips, especially to the east and west coast of the United States, as well as to India to visit extended family.  They focus on destinations that have some historical, geographical or other types of attractions to visit.

Where would Arnab like to travel that he’s never been?

“Switzerland, to see the Alps,” he said.  Curious, I asked what he knew about the country’s traditions.  Using deductive reasoning, he guessed that since the east is near Germany and he thinks they speak German, they probably celebrate Octoberfest.  And since the west is by France and they speak mostly French, they probably follow some of France’s tradition.

I checked it later on Wikipedia.  Arnab’s correct.

The Geography Bee does focus on using this type of deductive reasoning skill to get questions right.  I asked Arnab, “What was the winning question in the state bee?”

He knew the question and repeated it verbatim.  “The Qattara Depression created by shale and wind erosion lies 200 miles west of what major city?”

“Huh?” I thought.

Arnab explained that he pictured a map in his mind and saw the Qattara Depression in Egypt.  Then he visualized a bolded city due east: Cairo.  With that, he took home a $200 prize plus entry to the nationals.

Thanks, Grandpa!

I asked him for some “fun facts.”

“There is a city called Batman in Turkey,” he informed me.  “Also, the full name of Bangkok (the capital of Thailand) spoken in Thai is over 20 syllables.”

Arnab will compete against the country’s top 54 middle-school geography brains.  Excerpted from  Bee website, “The national Bee champion will receive a $50,000 college scholarship, a lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society (including a lifetime subscription to National Geographic magazine), and an all-expenses-paid Lindblad expedition to the Galápagos Islands aboard the National Geographic Endeavour ll. Second- and third-place finishers in the national competition will receive $25,000 and $10,000 college scholarships, respectively.”

Arnab says he is very excited to compete in the National Geography Bee.

Congratulations, Arnab!  We are all rooting for you!

Take a ten question Geography Bee quiz and see how you score.

Youtube video link of a boy saying “Bankok” in Thai.

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