David T. Sobel, MEd

Core Faculty
Department of Education

Project Director
Antioch New England Institute


Mapmaking with Children: Sense of Place Education for the Elementary Years

Mapmaking with Children: Sense of Place Education for the Elementary YearsThe current crisis in geography education has spawned several new books on mapmaking, many of which advocate either recitation and drill or a conceptual top-down model that ignores children’s interests. Mapmaking with Children presents an inspired alternative. Maintaining that there is no substitute for hands-on experience, David Sobel places the initial emphasis on local projects–projects that begin in students’ own backyards and communities, projects that provide a sense of place.

As Sobel explains, “In the beginning, children’s maps represent their experiences of beauty, secrecy, adventure, and comfort. With these affective endeavors as a foundation, I then gradually start to focus on scale, location, direction, and geographic relationships. The development of emotional bonds and cognitive skills needs to go hand in hand in my approach to developmentally appropriate social studies and geography.” To that end, his book identifies each stage of development, presenting relevant theoretical issues and several appropriate projects.

In the beginning, students stay close to home, mapping their known world. Gradually, they move on to their neighborhood, developing a sense of place, scope, and perspective. Eventually, once students are older, they explore the nation, the world, even the solar system, creating raised relief maps and contour maps to develop visual literacy and spatial reasoning skills. Vivid illustrations of the students’ work are provided throughout to let you observe each stage of development.

Mapmaking, as Sobel uses it, has relevance across the curriculum. In addition to appealing to social studies teachers, this book will be of interest to science teachers, language arts teachers, and math teachers looking for new ways to invigorate the curriculum.

Beyond Ecophobia: Reclaiming the Heart in Nature Education

Beyond EcophobiaBeyond Ecophobia speaks to teachers, parents, and others interested in nurturing in children the ability to understand and care deeply for nature from an early age. This expanded version of one of Orion’s most popular articles includes descriptions of developmentally appropriate environmental education activities and a list of related children’s books.

“What’s important is that children have an opportunity to bond with the natural world, to learn to love it, before being asked to heal its wounds.”

Know nukes : controversy in the classroom

Know Nukes Classroom activities are presented to help teachers introduce general controversial issues and specific issues on nuclear power in their high school science, social studies, and English classes. Objectives are to help students understand the various techniques of persuasion; the relationship between bias, persuasion, and fact; how these techniques can serve as foundations for critical thinking; and their own assumptions regarding what is true about nuclear energy. Activities are arranged into two major parts. The first part, focusing on techniques of persuasion, consists of six lessons that present various activities to help students understand how they are influenced by and are able to influence others in subtle ways. In the activities, students examine bias and facts, the appeal of advertisements, techniques of persuasion, propaganda, and specific persuasive techniques used in the nuclear power controversy. The next section, on valuing techniques, presents many activities to help students recognize their personal values and how these values influence rational decision-making. Included are values clarification activities, a five-step value analysis activity, examples of moral dilemmas, and worksheets on how to handle these moral dilemmas. Lessons provide clear directions and are presented in a format that includes worksheets, quizzes, and illustrations. (LH)

Place-Based Education: Connecting Classrooms & Communities

Place Based EducationThe most comprehensive review of place-based education ; its pedagogy and its practice ; yet to appear, by the author of the highly influential book Beyond Ecophobia. Through academic research, practical examples, and step-by-step strategies drawn from classrooms throughout the United States, Sobel celebrates teachers who emphasize the connection of school, community, and environment. Place-Based Education uses the local community and environment as the starting place for curriculum learning, strengthening community bonds, appreciation for the natural world, and a commitment to citizen engagement.

“Place-based education requires imaginative teaching, coalition building, strategic thinking, and community oriented, hands-on learning. Sobel’s life work is a brilliant blend of these essential qualities. His book is a superb compilation of research, theory, and practice. It is compellingly and warmly presented. Sobel nurtures the reader, engendering confidence, inspiration, and care.” Mitchell Thomashow, President of Unity College & author of Ecological Identity and Bringing the Biosphere Home

“Literally a landmark book, Sobel’s book belongs in the hands of every teacher in this country as a practical and inspiring guide to combining field and classroom in educating students. He offers a wealth of practical experience as well as documentation of how students and communities profit from place-based education. Parents and educators of all kinds will cherish Sobel’s work.” Ann Zwinger, teacher & author of The Nearsighted Naturalist and Downcanyon

Children’s Special Places: Exploring the Role of Forts, Dens, and Bush Houses in Middle Childhood

Children's PlacesAn examination of the secret world of children that shows how important special places are to a child’s development.From the ages of five to twelve, the middle years of childhood, young people explore their surroundings and find or construct private spaces. In these secret places, children develop and control environments of their own and enjoy freedom from the rules of the adult world. Children’s Special Places enters these hidden worlds, reveals their importance to children’s development and emotional health, and shows educators, parents, and other adults how they can foster a bond between young people and nature that is important to maturation.

Childhood and Nature

Childhood and NaturePublic discussions of global climate change and other threats to the planet are making children more aware of environmental issues. As increasing numbers of kids come to school wishing to take action, educators want to know how to teach in a way that fosters a love of nature and an understanding of the complexity and seriousness of these issues.

In Childhood and Nature, noted educator David Sobel makes the case that meaningful connections with the natural world don’t begin in the rainforest or arctic, but in our own backyards and communities. Based on his observations of recurrent play themes around the world, Sobel articulates seven design principles that can guide teachers in structuring learning experiences for children. Place-based education projects that make effective use of the principles are detailed throughout the book. And while engaged in these projects, students learn language arts, math, science, social studies, as well as essential problem-solving and social skills through involvement with nature and their communities.

The pressures of test preparation, standards, and curriculum frameworks often reduce the study of nature and the environment to a set of facts and general concepts. However, as Childhood and Nature demonstrates, linking curriculum with an engagement in the real world not only provides students with the thinking skills needed for whatever test comes their way, but also helps them grow into responsible citizens and stewards of the earth.