Social Education 59(3), 1995, pp. 165-169
National Council for the Social Studies

Carmen Sandiego: Crime Can Pay When It Comes To Learning

Terry Carroll, Cheryl Knight,
and Ed Hutchinson

Critics of education in this country have consistently complained about weaknesses in fundamental knowledge of "the basics." Some critics have placed particular blame on ineffective teaching, saying that teachers need to bring more imagination to their classroom duties to compete with expectations aroused by their students' constant exposure to television, movies, video games, and other highly attractive and easily accessible media (Goodkind 1992).
Computer guru Alan Kay has suggested that "Computers are the antidote to television." Kay believes that computers can inspire learning and enthusiasm. And he believes that they can transport viewers beyond the passive observation of many of these new media or the mindless button-pushing that is common to many electronic games (Rogers 1990).

An excellent example of a computer application that meets Kerr's prescription is the software series Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego? by Br¿derbund Software Inc. This "classic" is part of a series available for all platforms-ProDos, MS-DOS, and Macintosh. It offers a computer-based, "arcade approach" to provide scenarios that can be used to teach students not just about social studies, but a wide range of other subjects. It can also introduce them to important research skills and group learning processes (Bingham and Portwood 1992).

The Basic Story Line and Software
For those not already exposed to this software program, its story line consists of a series of arcade-approach, computer-based activities in which a bewitching young woman (Carmen Sandiego) and her gang (Villains' International League of Evil, or V.I.L.E.) pull off a series of audacious thefts of many of the world's great treasures (Rogers 1990). Carmen and V.I.L.E. have eluded Interpol everywhere, so students join the Acme Detective Agency to track them down.

These student-detectives must trace the steps of these culprits through cities on as many as six continents, obtain a warrant and make an arrest within a specified time frame. Their detective-work at each locale produces clues about geography and history that point to the next city in the chase, e.g., "He said he was a cobra buyer." There are also hints about the villain's identity that are needed to obtain a warrant. Success leads to promotions in rank as well as increasingly challenging scenarios. Higher-ranking sleuths must cover more cities, spend less time in each, and occasionally take calculated risks (Hurlburt 1989).

The Carmen software features advanced, high resolution windowing, beautiful city scenes, and an abundance of geographical facts. Sound effects, animated sequences, and a comprehensive manual round out the package. Both The World Almanac and Book of Facts and the software user's manual are included in the software package.

Motivation, Social Skills, and Learning Linked
This software program motivates students to learn and introduces them to a variety of cultures, people, places, and events that may have been foreign or unknown to them before. While educational, it is absorbing and thoroughly entertaining. The series combines real information with a humorous format that is suitable for students from the 4th through the 12th grades, and can be played by individual students, small groups of students, or entire classes (Miller and Caley 1987).

Carmen is useful because of the opportunities it offers to teach students a wide range of skills. Teachers can use it not only to guide their students' development of their data gathering, organizational, and research skills, but to foster their abilities in group learning, group problem-solving, and group decision-making exercises (Goodkind 1992). Moreover, Carmen can be used together with a Carmen database taken from The World Almanac and Book of Facts to stimulate in-depth investigations into geography as either a separate subject or as an integral part of instruction in mathematics, language arts, science, music, and fine art.

This article focuses on how teachers can use Carmen together with The World Almanac and Book of Facts to enhance students' critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Playing Carmen in Class: Getting Acquainted
When playing Carmen in class for the first time, be sure to give students enough time to become acquainted with the program. If the classroom is like most and doesn't have enough computers, use a large-screen monitor for displays. Allow the entire class to work together to solve several cases. Let students or groups of students take turns suggesting how to solve the case. Provide instruction on the game logistics and the group dynamics required to track the criminals. At the end of the session, lead a discussion that focuses on concepts learned and skills attempted, incorporating instruction on the vocabulary used, locations "visited," and the components of the dossier and the database.

Once the class fully understands the game, divide them into cooperative learning groups to work on a computer together. The team members should rotate the task of typing at the keyboard, compiling clues, tracing routes on maps, consulting reference materials, and working with the computer database (Miller and Caley 1987).

Now tell your students to pretend they are working on a case. The actual investigation begins at the Acme Detective Agency. After entering their names into the "Crime Computer," the students see that the display shows their current detective rank and briefs them on the details of the assignment. These include what treasure has been stolen, where it was stolen, the gender of the thief, and the deadline for making an arrest. Clues to the identity of the thief enable the "detectives" to pursue the villain from city to city. Log the identifying clues into the computer. When the "detectives" have identified the suspect, the computer will issue a warrant, a document necessary for completing an arrest.

The main computer screen gives the detectives' current location, current time, and day of the week. Additional descriptions provide information that will prove useful as the detectives pursue Carmen and her gang. The pictures themselves, of notable landmarks or typical scenes in a country, also provide clues. When your students think they've gathered sufficient clues to identify the criminal, they should click the "Crime Computer" icon and the "Interpol Crime Computer" will be displayed. The computer will issue a warrant if the characteristics entered fit the profile of only one suspect. If the characteristics fit more than one suspect, the computer will display the names of all possible suspects. If this is the case, your students will have to gather more clues before they can get an arrest warrant (Br¿derbund 1990).

Playing Carmen in Class: Exploring the Database
To utilize this technology even further, the teacher and the class can develop a database that can be used to solve clues uncovered while pursuing Carmen and her gang. The source for the database is The World Almanac and Book of Facts. Here is an example of a record from that database:

City: New York (largest city)
Population: 7 million
Landmark 1: United Nations Building
Landmark 2: World Trade Center
Landmark 3: Stock Exchange
Tourist 1: Skyscrapers, Subways
Tourist 2: Grant's Tomb
Tourist 3: Statue of Liberty
Country: United States
Leader: President
Type of Govt.: Democracy
Population: 230 million
Size: One-third of Russia's
Neighbors: Canada, Mexico
Language: English
Currency: Dollar
Flag: Red, white, and blue
Products: Designer jeans, latest fashions
Animals: Copperhead snakes
The database allows students to research clues from all over the world. Take, for example, the clue: "The bank teller reports that the suspect had his money changed to liras." The students could then look in the database under "currency" and search for all countries that use liras as the basis of their monetary systems. That should narrow the search to a point where students should be able to pick the right locale.

Another example of a clue might be: "The suspect was seen leaving in a plane flying a red and white flag." The students would search for countries with red and white flags, then match that list to the list of likely destinations and make appropriate choices.

Building 'Custom' Carmen Databases: Excellent Opportunities For Learning
Teachers frequently draw on their students' normal, everyday interests as a standard method of teaching. The Carmen Sandiego story line can be incorporated into many areas of the curriculum including mathematics (working with currency exchange rates, for example), language arts, music, and art. It can be used to develop thinking skills, research skills, data gathering abilities, and group dynamics.

Many social studies teachers have found that integrating the Carmen Sandiego story line with instruction and practice in the development of databases can produce significant added value to the curriculum. Developing the database could, in fact, constitute a discrete project that, like the Carmen exercise itself, incorporates features of cooperative learning. Teachers should encourage students to find new sources for information to add to their Carmen databases. They might suggest that students write or call travel agencies for brochures and road maps, or invite a travel agent or international visitor to speak to their class or school. It should not be hard for students to get their hands on a map of the world or a globe upon which to plot V.I.L.E.'s travels.

Teachers could also use a Carmen program to launch studies of other countries while having the class build a database. One way would be to hang a large map of the world on one wall to track the criminals' flight. As students play, the teacher would instruct them to gather information about the countries through which they are tracking Carmen and her gang. This information would include such things as the name and location of the capital city, geographic features, and the national currency (Castella 1986). The students would complete a record in the database for each country studied.

In a language arts application, teachers might ask students to use the computer in teams, solve a case, then write a creative story about their adventure. The teams could write and publish a detective newsletter, mystery story, or newspaper accounts of the gang's exploits or capture, keep travel logs or diaries, or ghostwrite an autobiography of Carmen or one of her gang members.

The Carmen Sandiego story line can also-and perhaps best-be used to teach geography. It lends itself well to teaching of the five themes of geography: Location, place, interaction between environment and humans, movement, and regions. Units in such a curriculum might include continents and other land forms; oceans and other bodies of water; cities, countries, and political divisions; directions; hemispheres; latitude and longitude; and time zones. Students, working cooperatively, could create world maps showing latitude, longitude, geographic change, and time zones and plot the progress of Carmen and V.I.L.E. across the maps they've created. Pointedly, in view of Ms. Sandiego's flight, the teacher could ask students to discuss the effects of geography on transportation, then ask them to calculate the gang's progress in terms of time, distance, speed, and, perhaps, typical weather conditions.

In a mathematics class, groups of students could chart the investigation, analyze travel costs, compute foreign exchange rates, and record expenses in ledgers. The plotting of locations traveled could be extended to a database and spreadsheet to calculate time of day, cost of meals using currency appropriate to the given country, and speed, distance, and the time necessary for travel. Students could use these data to study currency conversion, export-import trade balances, per capita incomes, and the national debt of the countries traversed. Teachers could have students keep track of the value of a particular currency by monitoring the exchange rate through reading their community's daily newspaper. Or they could assign groups of students a fixed amount of money to exchange in ten different countries on ten different days, then compare the final amount with its equivalent in U.S. currency. This type of information-gathering could lead to the study of the economic principles at work around the world.

Students in civics classes could be led to investigate the various types of governments of the countries they traverse as they pursue Ms. Sandiego. Class projects could include researching and discussing different systems of government or engaging in role-playing exercises based on being a citizen or official under that type of government. Or students could conduct a mock trial of Carmen and her gang members.

Anthropology comes alive in the artifacts, treasures, ancient relics, and cultural icons unearthed in the tracking process. Teachers of anthropology could instruct their students to research these objects and draw pictures or make models of them.

The teacher might ask artistic students to create "mug shots" or "wanted" posters of Carmen Sandiego and her gang members. Other assignments, particularly for art students, could include drawing pictures of Carmen and her fellow criminals or illustrating a theft, chase, and arrest. Students could create comic strips about Carmen and her gang, producing new episodes as evidence is discovered, or draw and illustrate foreign-language signs and banners. As for musical instruction, teachers could present, or students could research, the folk music of the countries visited in their search for the fleeing thieves.

Students could enhance their communication skills by using a word processing program to carry out writing assignments associated with the unfolding search for the whereabouts of Ms. Sandiego and her accomplices. Vocabulary instruction could address three categories: (1) The "standard" Carmen Sandiego vocabulary list (including such words as "avid," "dossier," and "fedora"); (2) jargon and its meaning (e.g., "hard-boiled," "plug-ugly," and "compulsive criminaquot;; and (3) word categories.

In a much larger context, teachers could consider the following exercises as they exploit their students' interest in the hunt to capture Ms. Sandiego: (1) a time-line showing the sequence of events as they unfold; (2) a class discussion of values associated with Ms. Sandiego's crimes and the search to capture her; (3) an analysis of the careers, hobbies, and other interests of both the gang members and the witnesses to their crimes; (4) preparation-and serving of-the foods from countries and regions the students have visited in their quests; (5) research and discussion of the unique cultures encountered during the hunt, with special emphasis on dress, customs, and religion (Robinson and Schonborn 1991).

Teachers in schools where more comprehensive databases or software programs are available might consider an even greater in-depth examination of the fanciful flight of Carmen Sandiego and the countries traversed by the students pursuing her. This would be possible if the school had, for example, the PC Globe series, which consists of an electronic atlas that provides instant profiles of 190 countries with detailed maps, graphics, facts, and figures all available at the touch of a key or the click of a mouse. These could be used as the basis for in-depth reports and debates in class (Goodkind 1992).

Carmen Sandiego: The Game Show
Teachers have another, easily accessible option for using the Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego story line in their teaching: The Carmen Sandiego game show is broadcast weekdays by PBS. Aired in the late afternoon, this television program provides a good model for classroom lessons presented in a game show format. An ideal set-up might include a computer with an overhead projection panel as well as enough computers for small teams to delve into the database to answer game show questions, taking turns at the computers if there are too few of them. To build suspense and extend their students' use of the database, teachers could withhold or hide the names of some of the locales. All students could be awarded "points" for correct answers, but teachers could award higher scores for correct responses early on, when there are fewer clues, and fewer points when discovery of the villains' hideaway becomes more and more inevitable.

Carmen In Action: Where In Greensboro Is Carmen Sandiego?
This article has explored many of the creative ways that teachers can use the imaginative Carmen Sandiego software package and the other materials associated with it to teach a host of subjects. The authors have learned of one particularly innovative example of how a teacher and students at one school in North Carolina used Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego to their best teaching advantage.

For "Computer Learning Month," the inter-disciplinary facilitator at the Lincoln Middle School of Science, Math and Technology in Greensboro, North Carolina developed a multidisciplinary format for studying North Carolina that integrated written data, sound, digitized images, and videos into the curriculum. A group of eighth graders created and then portrayed a gang of villains who joined Carmen Sandiego in a month of "goody grabbing" in Greensboro.

The group, which consisted of 20 students, created two mysteries for elementary students to solve. Twenty-five groups of pupils from nine of Greensboro's elementary schools registered to chase the conniving culprits. The local cable television presented clues video taped at Lincoln School; media specialists at each participating school then recorded them. The broadcast provided students with two new clues each day for five days. One clue helped the student detectives deduce the villain's hideout that day. The other clue revealed some characteristic of the villain (e.g., "ebony-haired," "carrot topped," "insatiable appetite for shellfish"), thus helping the students to reduce the number of suspects. The students recorded their conclusions each day on special work sheets provided for the exercise.

By the fourth day, Greensboro's young detectives had enough information to fill out "Warrant for Arrest" certificates for Carmen and the villains who had eluded capture thus far. The solution to that week's caper was then broadcast on the fifth day. The following week, students followed the second episode.

The software used in preparing materials for this activity included ComputerEyes (to create "mug" shots of the villains); MacWrite II (word processing); AppleWorks (to create the database of information about Carmen and her gang); Top Honors (to produce the arrest warrant); and The Print Shop (to prepare the art for the front cover of the "Police Dossier" booklet and the work sheets used in the hunt).

The equipment included a Macintosh LC II, an Apple IIGS, a monitor, a camcorder and tripod, VHS tapes, a remote microphone, a copier machine, and a printer.

The only prerequisite needed by the students was a desire to participate and a willingness to be open-minded to all suggestions.

The eighth grade class and the facilitator used two class periods to research interesting areas in Greensboro. After they developed a list of "Prospective Places to Pillage," the students took a school day to videotape the locations. They used another day and a half to edit these tapes and add narration. They then took five class periods to develop the story line for each caper. Altogether, it took approximately 15 periods for the students to type and edit the various scripts for two capers, to create the database of villains, and to produce work sheets, certificates, and the dossier booklet. Two sessions were needed after school to copy and collate all the different materials needed to participate in the capers into individual packets for each elementary class taking part in the exercise.

This exercise provided the experience necessary to replicate the exercise in other parts of North Carolina. Each semester, eighth grade social studies classes can create new capers dealing with other cities in the state. Like the original group of eighth graders, these students can use a variety of skills to develop the clues, scripts, costumes, and backdrops for further exercises. Skills in mathematics can be tapped-and taught-as students learn to draw maps of cities in North Carolina to scale. Scientific aspects of the state, including climate, topography, and geology can be discussed and displayed in graphic form. Students in social studies classes can research areas of historical and geographical significance (Thanos and Tedder 1992).

This exercise shows that when teachers combine alluring story lines with today's electronic classroom technology, there are great opportunities for imaginative-and effective-instruction.

Bingham D., G. Portwood and L. Elliott. "Where In The World is Carmen Sandiego." Journal of Reading 30, no. 4 (1992): 370-371.Br¿derbund Software Inc. Where In The World is Carmen Sandiego? Users Manual (1990).Castella, V. "Computers-in-the-Curriculum Workshop." Instructor, 96 (October 1986): 127.Goodkind, T. "Interactive Geography: Some Cross-Discipline Multimedia Application." The Learning Post (1992): 19-20.Hurlburt J. In Pursuit of Jet-Setters. A+ Magazine (1989): 115 -16.Miller, S., Caley, M. Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego? Teacher's Manual. San Rafael, CA, 1987.Robinson, M., Schonborn, A. "Three Instructional Approaches to Carmen Sandiego Software Series." Social Education, 55 (1991): 353-54.Rogers, M. "Crime Doesn't Pay: It Teaches." Newsweek 115 (March 1990): 72-73.Thanos, L. & Tedder M. "Where in Greensboro is Carmen Sandiego?" Paper delivered at North Carolina Educational Technology Conference, Greensboro, N.C., December 1992.Terry Carroll is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Appalachian State University, Boone, NC.
Cheryl Knight is an Associate Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Appalachian State University.
Ed Hutchinson, who has now retired, was a professor in the Department of Learning, Reading and Exceptionalities at Appalachian State University.