Teaching in the Moment

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.
    https://twitter.com/mr_wrabley/status/899775606623092736

    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.
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8 Responses to Teaching in the Moment

  1. mulligmg says:

    I’m hoping to figure out how to better link social media in my posts. I attempted to use the library desktops, but that wasn’t working for me either. One of these technology will be on my side!

  2. mulligmg says:

    I added a few examples of going into the margins! I thought it was sort of difficult because while you can come up with Margin activities, sometimes the best margin adventures are spontaneous and created by students!

  3. mulligmg says:

    Thank you! Being more flexible is something I definitely can and should work on. There’s so much learning I can do as a teacher from my students, I just need to be open and willing to follow their lead. Every day isn’t going to go as planned, but sometimes it ends up better than we expected!

  4. mulligmg says:

    Thanks, Naomi! I really think science is all about taking risks, which is funny, because I don’t consider myself a risk taker. So many scientific discoveries are made by “accident.” Risk isn’t always bad. Flemming wouldn’t have discovered the anti-bacterial properties of penicillin had he not left a dirty kitchen (I’m allergic to penicillin, so it doesn’t do me much good, but still!)!

  5. Naomi Patten says:

    Mehgan,
    Your post brings up some incredibly thought provoking points. I especially loved your discussion about how teachers can’t predict anything that happens in the classrooms, because it combats the argument that the margins are too risky to be implemented in the classrooms. Teaching in general is risky–you never know what a student is going to say or think, so you might as well create a culture where those risks have a better chance of paying off! In essence, teaching in the margins allows for a greater chance of success, even though the risks are still there, whereas teaching without margins has lower chances of success and still contains risks. I also loved your roadmap analogy, because in general classrooms can be seen as a trip from one point to another, and you made an excellent point that there are many different ways to get there! Giving students a general sense of where they’re going is all they need to hop on board and join in on the journey. All in all, great post! P.S. Twitter sucks, sorry your link isn’t working 🙁

  6. mccombae says:

    Your opening line about improv and the graphic that accompanies it really grabbed my attention. A lot of teachers need structure and order in their classrooms, and they adhere to their meticulously crafted materials, not wanting to stray from the beaten path. Your idea that structure is necessary to be knowledgeable and grounded is really important too, I think. A teacher needs to be flexible and reactive, giving students power and freedom, but they also need to keep in mind their educational goals and rationale for the lesson. I think this balance is paramount! Excellent work!

  7. angelokm says:

    Meghan, I really enjoyed reading your blog! It made some good points that I had not previously thought about. I liked how you said that teachers have a plan on how they want their class to go, but they syllabi should be able to change with the students needs. I agree that we have to a lot of improv when teaching because we do not know where the students will take their learning. I thought it was good that you emphasized that the center is needed, but the margins solidifies the subject. Your Pinterest picture was amazing! It really captured what you were trying to explain. Overall, I thought your post did a great job of explaining teaching in the margins. What are some examples of teaching in the margins?

  8. spelmasm says:

    I like the real life example you gave with the eclipse. I know many teachers did not even acknowledge it was happening! Even for the classes who were not allowed to go outside, the teacher should have pulled up a live stream to watch during class.
    I also really like how you brought up teachable moments and explained how they can be the start of margins.
    I cannot get your twitter link to work, but I bet it was awesome! I really enjoyed the pin you included in this blog post. I think it also fits perfectly in a science-y setting when you think about a surgeon. You wouldn’t want to get an operation done by someone who has only read about it!

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