At 6 years old, Matthew Barotz could name every U.S. state capital. Now 13 and an eighth-grader at Scarsdale Middle School, he is a semifinalist in National Geographic’s 2019 GeoBee. The statewide portion of the competition, which will determine who moves on to the national bee in May, will be held next Friday, March 29, at the New York State Museum in Albany. Students in grades 4 to 8 will be quizzed on world trivia with questions like, “Tea is the principal cash crop in the state of Assam, which is located north of Bangladesh in which country?” State champions will also receive a medal, $1,000 in cash and other prizes. Students who come in second place will win $300, and students in third place will win $100.
Matthew said he was always interested in maps and globes, through no specific influence. He never studied geography in school, but fed his interest by accruing study materials of his own. In his free time, he kept up with current events and read geography books, including Ken Jennings’ educational series.
To qualify for the statewide competition, Matthew clinched first place in his schoolwide competition in January. He’s competed all three years at SMS, and won each time in his grade level. His winning answer this year was “Australia,” when asked “Mount Kosciuszko is the tallest mountain on what continent?”
In prepping for the statewide bee, Matthew said he doesn’t go the traditional flashcard route. Instead, he relies on online tests, which determine “How many countries can you name?” or “How many state capitals?”
In that respect, Matthew is a fierce competitor.
Capital of Kenya?
Capital of Chile?
He can name fun facts around the globe. “The longest river in Canada is the Mackenzie River,” he said.
Matthew’s parents also test him on trivia, pulling from books and online sources for challenging questions. “Matthew’s knowledge of geography far exceeds mine,” his mother, Carrie Barotz, said. “Really, we don’t know the answers to these questions. We, in America, are sorely lacking in our knowledge of geography.”
Matthew said he practices for the bee several times per week, but he isn’t religious about it. “I don’t really ... feel much pressure doing this,” he said. “I just try to have fun.” His other hobbies include playing the flute, which he’s studied for six years, and devouring novels. He’s currently reading “All the Light You Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr.
Matthew also loves to travel. He and his family have visited eight countries: Canada, Mexico, the U.K., Italy, Israel, Dominican Republic, Jordan and Barbados. Italy was his favorite (“the culture ... the food”) and Spain is No. 1 on his travel bucket list.
To young geography buffs, he said, “Start reading and checking up on current events. And if you really like something, keep doing it.”