Movement Toward The Margins
By: Hayley Johnson, Miami University
Think back to when you were in middle or high school. What were your favorite memories in class? What made it memorable? No matter how far out of high school you are, most of your answers will not include anything about lectures, textbooks, and tests. The activities, experiments, and projects that may come to mind when reflecting back, are what can be metaphorically seen as “margins” in the classroom.
Margins in the Classroom:
Many classroom environments consist entirely of monocultural, unidirectional regurgitation of subject matter (Sound miserable? It should.). This is viewed as the “center” of the classroom (i.e. what you see between the margins). In this case, the students are all expected to act, respond, and learn in the same way. The margins are what help the classroom break away from this and allow for diversity, risks and, consequently, individual growth.
Characteristics of Margins:
-Activities enrich the areas they connect
-Uncontrolled varieties allow for polycultures instead of monocultures in margins
-Margins must be dissected and analyzed to find their meaning and responsiveness
-Margins may be viewed as unimportant or insubstantial by some
-Margins encompass risk and uncertainty- less stable
-A place where diversity can be considered
Margins vs. Teachable Moments
-Accidental or planned -Spontaneous
-Content focused -Instantaneous
-Foster creativity -One-time thing
Although teachable moments can be considered a margin in a classroom, margins include much more opportunity and exploration by the students and relate to the course content.
Key Terms for “Margins”:
Explore, question, create, opportunity, spontaneity, curious, connections, students
Margins Come to Life:
— Connected Classrooms (@BCHSstory) February 7, 2014
Such a simple and cost efficient idea, yet it allows student to be the designers of their own experiments and relates back to the Olympics; which is familiar to students and therefore easier to relate back to concepts.
— JoAnne Muir Myers (@JoAnneMM3) September 14, 2017
A moment where classroom content can now be incorporated and expressed in a new, visual way. The model was created by a custodian and creates new opportunities for students to learn science that can be used for years to come!
Eclipse viewing that Georgia Tech students chose to do on the first day of class that will allow for further in-class discussion. One student even says, “Education is not only limited to the classroom.”
Exemplar Lesson Plan:
Unit 3 : Week 1 Bacteria
- Students take warm-up time to prepare materials (glass slides, pipettes, jar) and clean microscope stations.
2. Class then walks out back and across the parking lot to the pond behind the school building.
3. Each group takes turn collecting jar full of at least 1/2 cup of pond water in jar.
4. In the classroom, the students will pipette a few drops of water onto the glass slide and place another on top of the water.
5. Using the proper microscope settings, students will explore their samples for any bacteria
6. Students will draw pictures of what they see and then question and identify what it may be that they see under the microscope and share with other groups to compare and contrast.
How can I use margins in my classroom?
Although the margins sound like a key aspect in the student’s learning, it is important to remember the importance of the center. The margins make connections and relate to the content that originates in the center. Margins can be activities that you plan into a lesson, or margins may arise spontaneously when opportunities arise to explore and question an event or activity.
Take home thought:
Don’t overthink it: Any moment in the classroom where you break away from lecture and explore or question something in the classroom or the world around you can be a margin where students engage themselves in their learning.
A classroom should balance the “margin” moments with the “center” moments for an optimal student growth and learning environment.