Leave the Center

To the left is a blank piece of paper awaiting for a student to take notes on. The paper is made up of the center and the margins. The center is where the student writes their lecture notes and the margin is where they write things that help them understand the material. Now think of the paper being your classroom. The main concepts are in the center of the paper, but where the students really get to understanding the material is within the margins.


My Experience with the Margins:

Throughout my educational journey I have been taught a lot, but the material that I have truly remembered was taught within the margins. In high school, my physics teacher would teach us the formulas and have us do problems about motion and force. What I really remembered about this class is when we did the Physics Olympics! The class was split into teams and we would compete against each other in the events. The events included a ping pong ball launch, balsa wood bridges, mobile mania, egg drops, mousetrap race-car, and the musical physics event. This semester long activity made my classmates and I really enjoy physics and the best part is we were also learning.

The Margins:

Teaching in the margins is very important in a classroom, especially a science classroom. The following are reasons why:

  • Teaching in the margins helps students understand the core material better.
  • The margins help give the students the opportunity to explore and use their creative side.
  • They give the students the opportunity to ask question.
  • The margins make the students curious about what they are learning.
  • The margins give the teacher the opportunity to see their students in action. This can give them feedback on how their students are doing.
  • They give everyone the opportunity to think outside the box.
  • It gives students the opportunity to relate it to their lives.
  • Teaching in the margins takes the focus away from the test and move the focus to learning.

Examples of teaching in the margins:


  • The Physics Olympics
  • Dissections (Sheep brain, sheep eye, bypass on a pig)
  • Making different colored fireworks with different chemicals
  • Color spectrum using acids and bases
  • Building a hovercraft
  • Making rock candy
  • Getting an egg into a bottle

Is the Center Important?

Yes! The center is also an important part of learning. The center and the margins go hand and hand. In the center is where you get the main content. In the classroom this looks like worksheets and lectures. It is important to find a balance between the two.

Margins vs Teachable Moment:

There is a difference between the margins and a teachable moment. A teachable moment is spontaneous and only happens for a few minutes in the classroom. A teachable moment cannot be repeated. It normally stems from students asking questions. Where the margin can be planned or spontaneous. The margin is more focused on the topic and the students learning. The margin helps students explore and question while also being creative.

The following are two questions a student might ask that can be turned into a teachable moment:

  • “Why is the sky blue?”
  • “Why are rain clouds dark?

Teaching is about finding a good balance between the center and the margins. This will ensure the students are getting many opportunities to ask their questions. It will also help students understand the content overall. Just remember to leave the center every once and awhile.


  1. Hello! I love the picture you paint at the beginning with the plain piece of paper to clearly show the metaphor of margins in the classroom. I haven’t had a chance to look through all of the blogs on margins yet but yours is the first and only that I’ve seen that included a section on their own experiences with “margins” and has pictures. This is AWESOME and very personable and gives real life exemplars of how you relate to the idea of margins. In my blog, I also had the example of the solar eclipse viewing because it is just so epic and showcases a memorable margin in education today. When I first saw the title of your blog I thought you were only going to focus on the margins and not mention the center but your section “is the center important?” touches back to its importance in the classroom. Great job!

    • Thank you for your comment! I thought having a personal aspect would help my readers connect with my experiences. I loved my high school experience with the physics olympics. This journey helped shape my teaching career and help me realize what teaching in the margins really was. I think the center and the margins are an important aspect of teaching. Finding a healthy balance is what I strive for.

  2. I really liked the list of reasons that you came up with for why teaching in the margins is important. The reasons you stated really give a firm explanation to the benefits of teaching in this manner. The three reasons that stood out most to me, personally, were giving the students the opportunity to ask questions, giving students the opportunity to relate it to their lives, and moving the focus away from the test and towards the learning. While in the margins, learning often feels less formal. Discussion is more likely to occur, and this discussion is what can enable students to ask questions more freely. Relating the information to the students’ lives is probably the one I would stress most. This lets them live the material. It shows how and why the material that is being presented is applicable to their own lives. Moving the focus from tests allows students to have a more fluid comprehension of the material. Teaching to a test is often choppy, and can bounce from point to point without a smooth transition. This is often avoided in the margins because there is much more give and take, which provides fluidity in the lesson.

    • I agree with you! I think that giving the students the opportunity to take charge of their own learning is important. It gives them a sense of responsibility. Plus it motivates them to try harder and encourages them to learn more. I hope my students realize that their learning is important! This is the reason I want them to relate their learning to their lives. Overall, I want my students to love to learn!

  3. I like your analogy with the piece of paper. When I think about the comparison I like it because on a piece of paper the majority of the work goes within the margins of a piece of paper. Whether it be note taking or something else. However, sometimes the notes or information in the margins of the paper can be the most important

    • Thank you for your comment. I thought the analogy was a good way to explain the difference between the center and the margins. I think that there needs to be a balance between the center and the margins. It is important to understand the core content (the center), but also understand how everything connects to one another (the margins).

  4. You did a great job defining a teachable moment and how it differs from being in the Margins!
    I think it is great that you were able to incorporate your own experience with the Physics Olympics into your post! I think the best part of the Olympics was that it felt like a game, not like a physics lesson, and I think that’s how students learn best! When you walk through the children’s toy aisle in Target, you can clearly see that learning doesn’t have to be boring; it can be loud, colorful, and engaging… in fact, it SHOULD be! That shouldn’t end when we have learned our colors, numbers, and what a cow says. It should continue into upper level classrooms, “What does a prism tell us about light?” “How does a telescope even work?” “How can I make a catapult that launches a ping pong ball across a room?” Learning should be practical, and it should be fun. The center is needed in order for us to explore the margins, but the margins are the true icing on the cake.

    • Thank you for your comment. I agree that learning should continue being fun for the students throughout their schooling. I think students learn best that way. They are more engaged throughout the learning process if they are enjoying themselves. I also think that this causes students to feel more comfortable in the classroom making it easier for them to ask questions and wonder about the world around them.

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