To be a teacher, you have to have some skills in acting and improv. Does this mean teachers just “act” like they know what they’re doing and hope for the best? Not exactly.
To be an organized teacher, you have to create a lesson plan. Most teachers introduce a syllabus at the beginning of the school year, breaking down the quarter or semester into due dates and test dates. Some teachers follow this syllabus step by step, keeping students “on track” and ensuring that the class “covers all the material” as stated, in ink, on the syllabus. Other teachers use their syllabus more as guidance. Due dates and lecture dates are penciled in, never committed in ink.
Who’s the better science teacher?
- As much as we try to prepare, teaching occurs in the moment. At any point in a class period, teachers can’t predict where a discussion will go, what questions students will have during a lecture or activity, or when “teachable moments” will present themselves. Teachable moments are unpredictable events that when recognized, can be used to enhance students’ understanding or curiosity regarding a subject. Teachable moments are catalyst to teaching in the Margins, the messy areas that emphasize the unknown, the puzzling, and risky areas of education. Teachable moments are just that- a moment- whereas the Margins represent the in depth exploration of uncharted subjects. Both can be spontaneous, although teachers can plan days to allow students to explore the Margins.
- Syllabi are a roadmap, but there are multiple ways to go from point A to point B. When students enter your classroom, they are only at the beginning of their journey for the year. It is the job of the teacher to get them to their destination in their education. The syllabus is a roadmap, but there are several paths that lead students where they need to go. Sometimes, taking the back-road is more scenic and memorable. Margins add the unforgettable scenes to our journey. It’s the journey, not the destination.
- The Margins cannot be reached by sticking to worksheets and lesson plans. Science is one subject where it is reasonable on a nice day to ask the question, “Can we go outside today?” The world is our classroom. When the opportunity presents itself, we should allow students to explore their world, not fill out worksheets that are difficult to apply to the real world. The eclipse this past August was a great example of a teachable moment becoming a lesson in the Margins. Maybe you were supposed to cover parts of the cell in biology, but why not make pin-hole cameras and take students outside to observe the eclipse? Have a discussion about how animals behave when totality occurs.
Examples of the margins:
- When talking about the planets and how we observe and know what we do about our solar system in the universe, a student may ask, “How exactly does a telescope work?” You can respond one of two ways, “Timmy, you don’t have to know that for the test. Don’t worry about it.” Or you could say, “Great question, Timmy! There are actually many different types of telescopes…” You may go on a 15-20 minute tangent on telescopes, how they work, etc. Now every time a student uses a telescope, they can understand how it works.
- In the middle of your lecture on the differences between meiosis and mitosis, a student blurts out, “Look!” and points outside the window. On the side of the building, you see a bee hive, or maybe it’s a wasp hive. Some students look fascinated, others scared, “What if they come inside and sting us!” “We should report this and have the hive removed!” Rather than yelling at the students to ignore the hive and pay attention, you decide to have a conversation about bees and pollinators. Is it really beneficial to have the hive removed? What do the students think? Are there ways to safely relocate the bees and their hive? You can even bring it back to meiosis and mitosis, and discuss how bees are haplodiploid. Maybe students want to investigate more about bees and the environment, and together as a class, you can decide how to handle the situation.
- We can’t have margins without having a center focus. Margins wouldn’t be margins if they didn’t surround a larger lesson or topic. The center is a minimal requirement, whereas the Margins are what make learning memorable and exceptional. I’m not saying go into each and every lesson with no plan, but be malleable- allow teachable moments to intrigue students, and allow student curiosity to lead to Margins.Go into the Margins. The world is your classroom, you might as well explore it.