Beside their beds, 14-year-old twin brothers Harry and Jordan Abrams have a world map they use to test one another during late-night geography quizzes. The Folly Quarter Middle School eighth-graders have tested their knowledge at the National Geographic State Bee in Maryland, where Harry will participate for his third and final time on Friday, March 31.
Using materials provided by the National Geographic Society, thousands of schools nationwide hold their own geography bees to find one student winner, who must then pass another test to qualify for the state competition. The 29th Maryland Geographic Bee will feature 100 fourth- through eighth-grade students in three rounds at the Maryland Public Television station in Owings Mills. Last year's winner was Howard County student Rishi Kumar, from Worthington Elementary School in Ellicott City.
Preliminary rounds will begin the competition at 11 a.m. and end at 12:30 p.m. with a tiebreaker, if necessary. The final and championship round will commence at 2 p.m.
"Some of it is focused on physical geography and some of it is focused on human geography," said Allison Ewing, the Maryland state bee coordinator. Questions also focus on religion and culture and "students have to know the information from their memory."
Harry is among 13 Howard County students to participate in this year's state bee, having also participated in fifth and seventh grade. His brother, Jordan, said he joined the school bees in fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grade, and in the sixth-grade match-up, beat his brother for the state qualifier.
"I've always been interested in maps since I was little," said Harry. "My dad owns a travel agency, so we get to travel a lot. That got me interested in learning about new places [and] I like learning about the cultures and different lifestyles of different places."
Luba Abrams, the boys' mother, said her husband, Ron, specializes in Israel pilgrimage travel. The Ellicott City family has traveled to several countries, including multiple trips to Israel.
"Considering that [Harry] doesn't spend every moment of every day studying, he just happens to have this really special talent and passion for geography," Abrams said.
Although he doesn't over-study for the competition, Harry said his time spent in the school bee practice sessions with social studies teacher Shaeleen Bader has helped expand his knowledge of geographical features in Europe and the Americas. Bader, the school's bee coordinator, said that while she's never taught the Abrams in her seventh- or eighth-grade classes, she has enjoyed watching them participate in the bees.
"In a society where students are so addicted to technology, the geography bee creates an awareness of the world around them," Bader said. "The bees are designed to inspire and reward the students' curiosity about the world. ... The Abram boys set a great example for all other students to emulate."
Daily quizzes are also available on the National Geographic Bee website and the Nat Geo Bee App.
"Sometimes, I do that," Harry said. "I just wanted to show my knowledge about geography. I like learning about new places and visiting those places. It's always a new and interesting experience."
Sibling rivalry between Harry and Jordan has its "ups and downs," he said, but most of the time, they bond over the common interest.
"It's nice being able to talk about stuff like this with him," Harry said.
"It's [been] pretty fun going up there every year and seeing how I'll do," Jordan added. "I enjoy the challenge. Harry is better at geography than me, so I enjoy just trying to do my best."
For more information on the National Geographic State Bee or to follow the results, go to nationalgeographic.org/bee/state-bees/.