Grade 5 Fernwood Geography Wiz Goes To State Bee

May 2, 2018

By Sheila Julson

Steve Szymanski, Fernwood Geography Club coach, Mrs. Carla Langhus (Lower Elementary teacher and Geo Bee Moderator), Quinn Weisser, Mr. John Sanchez, Principal at Fernwood Montessori, Jen Schmidt, Fernwood Geography Bee coach. —Courtesy Fernwood Montessori School

Which country does not border the Gulf of Guinea? Ethiopia, Benin, or Cameroon?
Answer: Ethiopia.

While some adults might have difficulty answering that question without consulting a map, students like Fernwood Montessori School’s Quinn Weisser would not. He aced lots of challenging geography questions at the 2018 National Geographic Bee’s Wisconsin State Bee, held April 6 in Madison, Wis.

Most of the 100 students who competed were in middle school grades, but Weisser was one of only two fifth-graders who competed. Fernwood was one of four other schools from Milwaukee that sent a student to the competition. 

Weisser studied geography facts and prepared for the bee through Fernwood’s geography club, led by parent volunteers Jen Schmidt and Steve Szymanski, who each have two children who attend Fernwood. The club was formed this school year.

From October through April, the club met after school in Fernwood’s library, which has a smart board and access to Google Earth, where students got to view sights such as the top 10 largest waterfalls in the world. They also played geography board games and performed other geography-related activities.

Schmidt initially started the club for fourth, fifth, and sixth graders. Initially, she didn’t realize that the National Geographic-designed program materials were for seventh and eighth grade students. When she did, she did not expect to send any of the younger students in the club to the bee. But the students started to have fun and they learned a lot, so that motivated Schmidt to hold a school bee.

“Quinn has a true gift for geography,” Schmidt said. “He has such a bright future. I [was] so proud to see him take on this opportunity.” 

On January 29, Fernwood held its geography bee, moderated by lower elementary teacher Carla Langhus. Weisser won Fernwood’s geography bee.

School winners were eligible to take an online qualifying exam to determine if they could participate in the Wisconsin State Bee. Weisser passed. 

Weisser, along with his mother, Korinthia Klein, and Schmidt, attended the state bee, held at the American Family Insurance building in Madison. The state bee has been held since 1989.

Once at the state bee, competing students, parents, and coaches were given an overview about what to expect.

The bee began with preliminary rounds, where kids were grouped into five separate rooms, with 20 in each room. Each student was read eight questions in the preliminary round. Students who answered all eight correctly, advanced to a tiebreaker round, and tiebreaker winners moved on to the finals. Klein said Weisser finished in the middle of the pack of his preliminary group.

“There were strict rules about no technology because all states and territories were holding bees on the same day, and they had to make sure questions weren’t getting out,” Klein said. “No children or parents were allowed out of the rooms until the children were done. There were lots of rules to keep it consistent. No parents were allowed to mouth answers. We all had to sit on our hands and be absolutely quiet.”

Hansen Jin, an eighth grade student from EG Kromrey Middle School in Middleton, Wis., was the state winner. Winners of each state bee advanced to the national bee in Washington D.C. that will be held May 20-23.

Weisser enjoyed his experience at the bee. “I like that the question-asker guy was really nice. I was nervous because there were a lot of people sort of competing for the same thing. I liked getting asked questions I knew the answers to. The ones I got wrong were things I didn’t know, rather than things I knew and couldn’t remember. I would like to do it again,” he said.

“He made educated guesses,” Klein said. “One of the questions he got wrong was, what is the second largest city in Switzerland? It didn’t occur to us to study second largest cities.” (Do you know the largest?)

Weisser now knows that answer is Geneva. Klein said that in the car on the ride home, he wanted her to ask him more geography questions, and he realized that he needs to study cities, and features of countries, and regions that will provide clues to answers.

“Another one he got wrong was about leafcutter ants in a Central American country on the Nicoya peninsula,” Klein said. “He answered Panama, because his uncle was an entomologist in Central America, so we knew there were leafcutter ants in Panama, but what threw us off was the name of the peninsula. We weren’t familiar with that. The answer was Costa Rica, so he made an educated guess.”

A love of geography

Klein said that her son’s love of geography started as a toddler when Quinn received a United States puzzle map. “What appealed to him was how the shapes were significant and fit together in a meaningful way, whereas regular puzzles just fit together to form a picture,” she said. “He was only 18 months when he mastered the Asia puzzle.”

Toddler Quinn Weisser fell in love with geography when he received his first puzzle map. —Courtesy Korinthia Klein

Klein recalled that when Weisser’s older sisters, Mona and Aden, were at school, she brought Quinn to her violin store. He sat on the floor with a map puzzle of Europe. 

During a visit to the Milwaukee Public Museum, Quinn, who was about two at the time, noticed a display of an African country named Zaire. Klein said he questioned why it wasn’t labeled the Democratic Republic of Congo, the nation’s name since 1997.

When he discovered that puzzle-maker GeoPuzzle didn’t produce one of Australia, Weisser made one himself. He has celebrated birthdays with cakes decorated to resemble globes. His father, Ian Weisser, has a degree in geography.

“I like maps, and learning new facts and trivia,” Quinn said. He would also like to travel.

Although Weisser is only 11 years old, his mom said Quinn has expressed interest in a geography-related career, such as a cartographer. 

Held since 1989, the National Geographic Bee is a competition for public schools, private schools, and homeschools in the United States and its territories, as well as the Department of Defense Dependents Schools. 

The National Geographic Bee Championship will take place in Washington, D.C. May 20–23. National Geographic will stream the final round of the on its website May 24.

(The largest city in Switzerland is Zurich.)

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