Social Education 55(6) pps. 353-354
©1991 National Council for the Social Studies
Maureen Robinson and
Annette T. Schonborn
Educators are invited to investigate Carmen Sandiego, a software series aimed toward encouraging investigation into geography. These mystery exploration games, by Brøderbund Software, Inc., provide the user with a computer-generated investigation of thefts. Students are asked to track villains to locations around the world using clues unearthed along the chase. Carmen can be incorporated into many areas of curriculum and skills instruction including math, language arts, art, music, values teaching, research skills, data gathering, and group dynamics. A world of learning is available as Carmen "bytes" into all academic areas.
Teachers may ask how this software can be used for effective instruction, how they can avoid the pitfall of simply "playing the game," what knowledge and skills are involved in completing these software exercises, how they need to prepare students to play, and how best to answer these questions.
Three approaches can be used to incorporate Carmen into the curriculum. "Teacher Directed Grouping," the first instructional design, incorporates teacher instruction into a cooperative and competitive arena. The second approach, "Curriculum Integration," links the diverse academic specialties involved. Finally, "Isolated Lessons" uses Carmen not as a game to be played in its entirety, but as isolated lessons using selected Carmen screen features such as the continents, hemispheres, and countries.
Teacher Directed Grouping
Teacher Directed Grouping requires a minimum of two weeks with Carmen as the designated instructional unit. This intensive approach encourages teacher-directed instruction concerning game logistics, group dynamics for tracking criminals, and a wrap-up discussion focused on concepts learned and skills attempted. In order to spark students' interest in this new learning approach, teachers using this instructional design should begin by donning a hat and trench coat (à la Sherlock Holmes), presenting a take-off audio tape of "Mission Impossible," or playing the video provided with the software materials. The second stage incorporates teacher-directed instruction on vocabulary used, locations included, and dossier and database components. These game features go hand-in-hand with a walk-through of the game via large-screen projection.
Further development at this stage includes group dynamics. Groups rotate through practice rounds and create maps, dossier images, and database charts to be used throughout the experience and posted on classroom walls. After practice rounds are completed, group cooperative and competitive play is performed either in teacher-designated order, randomly, or kitchen-timer style. In teacher-designated order, the teacher assigns the method for tracking the theft by specifying the screen menu pattern. Randomly, students are allowed to make screen menu choices independently. The timer style simply regulates the time spent on the computer, attempting to speed up student play and to hone investigation skills above and beyond computer-generated time mechanism.
Teacher Directed Grouping places Carmen within an already established curriculum and designates a two-week focus of instruction. At the teacher's discretion, however, more time-even a full school year-could be devoted to Carmen, providing the opportunity for investigation of additional topics in social studies and in other disciplines.
The Integration Approach, involving diverse curriculum areas, is the base for a one-week lesson. This approach functions best in a departmentalized setting where all teachers team to develop and control the Carmen environment. Students might (1) create a time line of the game progress, (2) discuss the concept of values, (3) analyze careers, hobbies, and interests of gang members and crime witnesses, or (4) plan, prepare, and consume the foods of countries and regions involved.
Furthermore, the study of currency, trade, and industries in Carmen reveals economic principles. Anthropology comes alive in the artifacts, treasures, ancient relics, and cultural aspects unearthed in the tracking process. Investigation into the various governmental systems shows evidence of political science. In math, group members could chart graphs of the days of the investigation, analyze travel costs, compute foreign exchange rates, and post and tally travel vouchers and ledgers. Reading might include investigation of the world's mystery writers and famous sleuths in literature. In science, Carmen could be used to further promote the concept of metric calculations.
In language arts, students write investigative reports, keep journals or diaries of the investigation process, maintain a clue checklist for criminal identification, or create storybooks about favorite Carmen characters. Moreover, students could use a word processing program to complete writing assignments, thus linking two software packages simultaneously. Vocabulary instruction addresses three categories: (1) the standard vocabulary list (including words such as avid, dossier, and fedora); (2) jargon and its meaning (e.g., hard-boiled, plug-ugly, and compulsive lawbreaker); and (3) word categories. A spelling bee using the unusual place names found in Carmen adventures would further extend vocabulary instruction.
Artistically and musically, students could be assigned the creation of police dossiers, mugshots, and "wanted" posters. Costuming as criminals or detectives would provide another link to the arts, as would map illustration and the creation of foreign-language signs and banners. Highlighting folk music from the countries and regions featured in the programs enhances the music connection. Curriculum integration is boundless!
Finally: do not use Carmen as a game; do not have groups investigate; do not use the software for its intended purpose. Instead, call up the map screens, the picture screens, the city departures, or the clues-each of these can provide isolated instruction in geography, problem solving, decision making, and analysis of data. The Isolated Lesson approach proves that Carmen is geography and can be used to teach about: continents and other land forms; oceans and other water forms; cities, countries, and political divisions; directions, both cardinal and intermediate; scale; hemispheres; latitude and longitude; time zones; projection; and the great global circle. In turn, isolated screens would also encourage skill building in problem solving, decision making, and data analysis.
Skills instruction accompanies this curriculum base. A variety of data gathering and research assignments, dependent upon reference materials, provided and supplemented, could be completed. Research on treasures of the world, villains of the world, and cultures and places of the world are most applicable as Carmen is used. Students could input this information into a database program instead of in written chart form, thus using two computer software packages simultaneously. Inferences can be made from dossier descriptions. And, of course, problem solving is integral in the investigation of the theft.
Carmen Sandiego is versatile software. Teachers need not feel threatened that these packages would detract from valued class time. Instead, they will find one (or more) of the three instructional styles for using Carmen in the classroom a versatile and effective teaching tool.
Maureen Robinson is a social studies instructor and Annette T. Schonborn is a technology instructor in the College of Education at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, Florida 32816.