Carmen Sandiego in the Classroom: Cross-Curricular Solutions and Ideas

Every year when my co-workers and I begin planning, we ask ourselves some questions to help guide our lessons: How do we create a culturally aware and culturally sensitive classroom? Are we able to build cross-curricular connections? How can we cultivate a strong sense of self amongst our students? What are some ways to teach about defying gender stereotypes? How will we motivate students to be self-sufficient? Where in the world is a book that offers it all? And, how do we include all these types of learning and lessons in our daily activities?

This year, we were able to introduce the new book Who in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? as a supplement to our curriculum. So, I wanted to share some ideas with my fellow teachers for including Carmen Sandiego into your classroom activities. After all, I believe collaboration is always key to successful lesson planning!

A map displayed in Rachel Swartz's classroom, where students have identified potential new world wonders.
Carmen Sandiego Cross-Curricular Solutions

Carmen travels to many places around the globe. By tracing her trail, students can learn to read and follow a map. Along with using some of HMH’s free online resources, you can incorporate her travels into geography and history studies.

Every year, I teach a unit about the world wonders, and there is great opportunity to incorporate Carmen’s travels into this unit. Students can learn about the specific history of places she visits and the potential world wonders in those locations.

There is also room for students to create cross-curricular connections with science, as they can learn about the environment of these places and how to preserve them. I recently taught a service learning unit about the importance of recycling and the effects of pollution on our earth. Students can pretend they are the “Carmen Sandiego of the natural world,” and create their own plan to preserve and “rescue” the environment, dealing with the “criminal” of pollution. They can use a map to trace out the places they would virtually travel to and provide real-world solutions to problems from climate change.

The Carmen Sandiego archetype can also serve as a model for students to create their own characters and go on their own quests. In math, Carmen can portray a problem solver, answering math questions based on the places she travels. No matter which subject you teach, there is a way to incorporate her adventurous spirit into activities for your curriculum.

Fairytales and Stereotypes: Carmen Sandiego Breaks the Mold

Carmen does not follow the typical stereotype for a female figure in classic hero/princess texts. One unit I teach every year is about how fairytales disenfranchise princesses and stereotype princes based on their genders. We read stories like “Snow White,” “Sleeping Beauty,” and “Cinderella.” Incorporating Carmen’s story as an example of an enfranchised protagonist is a perfect addition to the unit.

Teaching the book can be an opportunity for students to learn about specific gender stereotypes in these stories, and why those stereotypes exist. Students can identify and explain why women were disenfranchised in classic fairytales and how characters like Carmen Sandiego are crafted to defy the norm. Instead of being weak, helpless, complacent, and valued for her looks, Carmen is independent, strong-willed, and clever. She is not waiting for a prince to save and marry her, nor is she being targeted by a jealous witch. Instead, her value and agency come from her intelligence, thoughtfulness, and independence. Through self-empowerment and creativity, she brings justice to the world.

Left: A message of inclusion displayed in the hall outside Rachel's classroom; Right: Rachel Swartz (furthest right) with her co-workers.
Carmen Sandiego Is a Role Model for Students

Carmen can serve as a role model of self-sufficiency, resourcefulness, and determination. If students struggle to stay motivated—which can especially happen during the final stretch of the school year—analyzing Carmen’s character may spark a bit of inspiration in their own lives.

As some of my students read Who in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? this year, they were fascinated with the difficulties she experienced in her early life and how she overcame obstacles. I found that they couldn’t wait to continue reading and were excited to discuss her characteristics. Not only was reading the book an enjoyable experience, but students idolized her character. She can motivate them to investigate and explore things of interest to them. Carmen’s go-getter attitude can teach students to be proactive in their lives instead of waiting for someone to help them when they get stuck.

Cultural Awareness Is Carmen Sandiego’s Forte

Most importantly, Carmen’s travels help teach students to be more culturally aware and sensitive to others’ differences. Every year, I teach a unit about how a person’s past experiences affect their current behavior. We read stories about people who have dealt with challenges in their younger years and look at which character traits they exhibit as a result. We also read stories about immigrants from different countries, focusing on their struggle to assimilate into the American lifestyle while still trying to keep their culture alive. This teaches students to be insightful, empathetic, and understanding of others’ behavior, as well as cognizant and self-aware of their own.

Carmen Sandiego is a rich character with a diverse background who often encounters different cultures on her journeys. Delving deeper into the experiences she has in these other countries, and the customs of such places, can help students become more culturally aware. Through Carmen’s backstory and travels, students can cultivate sensitivity towards others and an appreciation for experiences and culture that are, perhaps, different from their own.

Where in the world is a heroine that helps students be more reflective about themselves, the world, and those around them? Look no further than where in the world is Carmen Sandiego—once you find her, she’s ready and able to inspire the next generation of strong, independent, and understanding kids.

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Use Carmen Sandiego to help inspire your students to love history, culture, geography, and more with all of HMH’s free classroom resources! 

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