Thinking Outside the Box…Or Curriculum

Thinking and Teaching Outside of Curriculum

What? You can actually think and teach outside of the set curriculum? Yes you can! Many teachers and education students think that curriculum is a set plan to follow word by word. In reality, curriculum should act as guidelines to the subject being taught. Yes, there are many things that have to be taught, but what about the things outside of curriculum? These can be found…IN THE MARGINS. 

It is so important to move beyond curriculum (when appropriate), especially within a science classroom. There are so many things that connect, are unknown, and are needed to be experienced to fully understand.

Ann E. Haley-Oliphant gives insight into the abstract and creative concept in Exploration, Risk-Taking, and Wonderment: Traveling to the Margins of Instruction.

Introduction to the Mysterious Margins

What do you think of when you hear the term margin? I personally think of the margins of a piece of lined paper. A majority of people believe that these are supposed to be clean, unused, and clear of writing.

Time to prove those people wrong!

The margins of this piece of paper can be used to provide:

  • Annotation
  • Further ideas
  • Edits and revisions
  • Fun doodles

Why should this space be wasted? Many things that one would not include within the paper can be done within these margins.

You may be asking, how does this piece of paper relate to teaching? Well, here is your answer. These margins exist all over curriculum and within teaching. These margins are the places in which lessons provide opportunities for thinking outside of the set guidelines.

A journey to the margins within the classroom should never be wasted. This should be one of the most valued events that can possible take place. It also is one of the most fun aspects of learning!

How Does a Classroom Get a Ticket to the Margins?

A trip to the margins can come about from various different points within curriculum. These journeys can come about when a set curriculum:

  • Cross-connects with other curriculum
  • Opens up the floor to new ideas
  • Leaves room for thoughtful questions
  • Introduces unexpected discussion
  • Connects with real-world events
  • Encourages critical thinking methods
  • Simply asking “why?

Critical thinking often plays a huge part in traveling to the margins. If a student can think past what is right in front of them, the margins are broadened and ready to be filled!

The video below dives deeper into critical thinking methods that both benefit students and teachers:

Important Note: The margins cannot exist without set curriculum, but curriculum can exist without the margins. Use this idea to think about how important a knowledge base is to exploration!

So, What Do the Margins Within a Science Classroom Look Like Once You Have Arrived?

The margins are a sight to see from a teacher’s perspective. In the margins, one will be able to observe students:

  • Creating their own set of questions related to the curriculum
  • Diving deeper into a topic than maybe anticipated
  • Connecting curriculum to something that is observable in the classroom or outside world
  • Sparking ideas on an impromptu activity related to the topic
  • Researching further ideas related to the topic
  • Arguing different sides of the topic and working together to come up with a consensus
  • Being engaged and excited

The coolest thing about being in the margins is that you do not know what is going to happen! The margins are completely unpredictable, which gives so much flexibility to the list above. What would you like to see within your classroom margins?

Examples of trips to the margins in the science classroom could include:

  • A student asking why the periodic table is set up the way it is leading to an impromptu lesson on periodic trends
  • Exploring the contents of acid rain and its effects during a time of high pollution/poor air quality
  • Exploring the behavior of the class animal while it is pregnant to further understand living organisms and their mannerisms

Are the Margins Just Teachable Moments?

The short answer to this is NO! The margins are a very unique setting in the classroom because of how unpredictable they are. Teachable moments typically:

  • Are short term lessons/discussions
  • Have a simple black or white answer
  • Somehow within the curriculum

The margins can be:

  • Long term lessons/discussions
  • Open to multiple answers or opinions
  • Incredibly complicated
  • Outside of the curriculum; but stem from it


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