Connor Madden often explores Google Maps, not to find his route — he’s far too young to drive — but to study the contour, location and size of states, cities and countries.
The eighth-grader never expected to win a school-level National Geographic Bee, advancing to competition against other middle school students from across the state.
The 13-year-old from Oldfield Middle School in Greenlawn remembers the winning question. “The Green Mountains are on the border of Canada and which state?” With ease, Madden answered, “Vermont.”
“I’ve always been passionate about geography and history,” said Madden, of Greenlawn. “I use Google Maps all the time to explore new places in the world, so that someday I’ll be able to visit them.”
Chris Havranek, who had Madden in his seventh-grade U.S. History class, said students first took a written test in their social studies classes, and the two top-scoring students from each class moved on to the school’s National Geographic Bee in January, involving 18 students.
“It’s really nice to see how many students absorb what you teach them,” said Havranek, 30, of Nesconset. “They come with a lot of predetermined knowledge. It’s eye opening.”
After winning the school competition, Madden had to submit a second written test to the National Geographic Society to qualify for the state competition. He was notified Tuesday that he had one of the top 100 scores in the state, advancing him to the 25th annual New York National Geographic Bee in Albany on April 5.
His mother, Mollie Madden, knew the moment she picked him up from school, by the big smile on his face, he was advancing to the state-level bee.
“He’s always had an affinity for studying states, flags, capitals and presidents,” she said. “I mean, he plays this trivia flag game on the iPad all the time, even on vacation.”
The winner in Albany will receive $100, and a trip to Washington, D.C., where they will represent New York in the national finals, May 20-22. There, the winner will walk away with a $25,000 scholarship and a family trip to the Galápagos Islands.
Madden is already thinking beyond the state-level competition and to the finals.
“I’m hoping to get to Washington, D.C.,” said Madden, who’s currently in Dina Stefanak’s eighth-grade social studies class at Oldfield Middle School. “I’m going to study really hard.”
His father, Brian Madden, had always supported his son’s eagerness to study maps and historical events.
“Knowing Connor, I’m not too surprised, but I’m proud and couldn’t be happier for him,” said Madden, 44. “Truth is, his memory is unbelievable. When I was his age, I was interested in geography, so I guess the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree.”
Big fans of the long-running game show “Jeopardy!,” the family would like him to make it to nationals to meet the show’s host, Alex Trebek, who will be moderating the final round of the 2013 National Geographic Bee, which airs May 23 on the National Geographic Channel.
Havranek said that last school year Madden would approach him before or after class to show him articles on history he had cut out, foreign coins or quiz him on current events.
“Connor is very impressive. It wasn’t a surprise that he won because he’s truly passionate about social studies,” Havranek said. “It’s one thing to teach them life skills, but having a seventh-grader bring up information you haven’t taught yet in class is rewarding.”