Sunday, March 30, 2014

S-P-E-L-L-I-N-G B-E-E

Yesterday was the Houston Public Media Regional Spelling Bee. And since I am my school's spelling bee coordinator and we had a student competitng, I got to be one of the guests.

Call me a nerd, but can I just say that it was the coolest experiences ever? Spelling Bees can be pretty intense and suspenseful as you watch a group of kids anywhere from 1st to 8th grade (most kids at the level are usually 4th to 8th) get thrown a series of words and try to spell them. The whole audience is on the edge of their seats each time a kid hesitates and there is a collective sigh of disappointment and pity if they get it wrong. We are all ready to clap and cheer them on as they progress. And even though we hope our kid is the one who comes up on top, in those moments we root for each child and feel for them as if they were our own.

Or at least I did.

The Bee started at 2pm and I didn't get out of there until it ended around 6:30. I was attached to every one of those 55 kids through the 10 rounds that eventually yielded two co-champions (incidentally the same two kids who were co-champs last year).

The journalist in me led me to instantly begin recording the whole event on the program. I kept track of who was eliminated each round and what words knocked them out. I took pictures and observed parent reactions... which led me to realize I wasn't alone. Most of the highly competitive kids' parents were also taking notes. And not just of what words were being spelled incorrectly but of ALL the words being spelled.

Note to Self: Keep track of all words in future so that your speller can also one day be a champion, or at least in the Top 5 for the Bee like all the other parents did.

One of the co-champs' parents even had a computer and kept track of the rounds and everything too. I thought about the value of all that information... and I guess you could get a feel for if there any trends between word difficulty or origin or obscurity.

I mean, there were definitely a lot of words that meant absolutely nothing to me: krigia, Eichhornia, balalaika, sitzmark, jacamar, tintinnabulary, cloche, dauw, bonnaz... I could keep going.

The nerd in me recognized a word that Akeelah had to spell in the movie "Akeelah and the Bee" (senectitude) and I almost squealed with glee when the sentence for the word brumous was as follows: The character emerging from the brumous background was Sherlock Holmes.

My girl was able to hold out until the 3rd round, beating out 23 of the 55, and tieing for  24th/25th with 4 other people (since they all got out on the same round).

She got out on the word "diaspora," which hurt a little because it's a word I used all the time and even had a whole blog about in grad school. But it also showed how often words are "easy" because of our familiarity with them and nothing else. That perhaps there truly are no "hard" words. It all depends on how many words you just know. And the more words you know, the easier spelling bees are for you.

And knowing patterns can help, too. One of the moms talked about how it's similar to math and that's the strategy she uses to coach her kids. Recognize the sound patterns for words from different origins and you know that Greek words that have the 'f' sound will always be spelled with "ph." Or that something that sounds like "nwa" would be spelled "nios" if they origin is French. And sometimes addition is invovled. Adding techno and babble gives you "technobabble."

I learned a lot and feel better prepared for next year and one day even getting a kid to the Scripps National Bee!

Other Fun Stuff from the day: It was also really cool that the Bee was held in the studios where "A Manor of Speaking," Houston's Downton Abbey recap show is aired. And it was the same host! (Didn't get to meet him though.) I was also momentarily aired on TV and almost got interviewed (there was never a long enough break between rounds for the reporter to actually do the interview). The special guest was Nupar Lala, the 1999 National Bee champ who was in the documentary "Spellbound," which I am now going to watch.

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