Students at Lincoln Elementary vie to first compete in, then win, the coveted Geography Bee

The Geography Bee has been a beloved tradition for Lincoln Elementary students since it began in 2015. The idea originated with memories of teacher Jon Pardeon’s school days when a teacher used a timeline with maps in classroom discussions of history. It made the lessons come alive, he recalled.

This year, as the Geography Bee entered its 16th and final round focused on world capitals, just two students were left – sixth graders Nathan Gorman and Nathan Mercer. Their excitement and nervousness were visible to everyone watching. Gorman hopped in place a little, while Mercer wiggled.

Courtesy of NMUSD

Front row (L-R) Nathan Mercer, Nathan Gorman and Ethan Jacobson join teacher Jon Pardeon

Teacher Pardeon nodded at 2019 Geography Bee winner and current Corona del Mar High School student Dania Obaidi to ask the first question.

But first, a little background. All interested fifth- or sixth-grade students at Lincoln are given study packets by their teachers starting in January. Pardeon incorporates elements of the National Geographic curriculum, art history, famous photographs, state senators and United States presidents to give students a well-rounded worldview.

“I wanted the Geography Bee to be challenging for the students, but I also wanted them to have fun,” Pardeon said.

A scheduled full-group study session gives students an overview of what to expect in the Geography Bee. Some students also met in their own groups to study together for the qualifying tests, which mainly consisted of blank maps. This year, 17 students qualified to ultimately compete.

“This is a highlight of our school year,” said Principal Kristin DeMicco. “These students have diligently studied for months for this big, exciting moment. It’s a unique learning experience, and the students truly support one another. I’m proud of all of them.”

Now, back to the action.

The students were quizzed by Pardeon and two past winners while two other winners from the 2023 Bee kept score.

Maps lined one wall, as students lined up with sheets of colored dot stickers. The rounds flew by, with the students sharing their knowledge of the world’s continents, countries and oceans, as well as the United States, while placing red, blue, or green dots on maps, often turning to Pardeon for confirmation once their hands were off the sticker. If a student missed the mark, he simply responded, “Good try.”

A screen was lowered for rounds focusing on art history, iconic photographs, historical landmarks and politicians. In keeping with the geography theme, students named where artworks were created and where they are located now.

Sixth grader Leo Nguyen whispered, “I know this one” as Katsushika Hokusai’s “The Great Wave of Kanagawa” appeared onscreen. He smiled as he correctly answered Tokyo, Japan, for the painting’s location then and now. Fellow sixth grader Shwaas Kurada bounced over to congratulate him as they waited for the next round.

Fifth grader Ethan Jacobson left the penultimate round as the third-place finisher. He smiled at his friends and wished them both luck. “I’m coming back next year, and I’m going to win,” he’d say later.

In the end, this year’s Geography Bee was won by Gorman, who was one of four champions from 2023. “I love geography and history, and the Geography Bee combines both of those things. It was fun competing last year, and this year was more exciting. I know I’ll be back to help next year,” he said.

Now that’s the way to get children interested in learning.


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