Why We Should Teach In The Margins

Picture a typical science classroom format: One teacher, in the front of the room, spouting out notes to twenty or more students who hurriedly jot them down in their notebooks for forty-five minutes until the bell rings. This describes Timmy Sullivan’s definition of a teacher and not an educator.

This model of the classroom causes students to miss so much, both in terms or learning and enjoyment. Venturing away from this core, into the “margins” of the classroom are what we as teachers can do to get kids learning science better and get them enjoying it more.

The margins are where teaching allows students to experiment and flourish, but cannot exist without the “center” described above. While there are occasions where filling students brains with knowledge can happen, it shouldn’t be the only way you teach!

But what exactly is teaching in the margins? Try to do things like this:

  • Release some control to the students.
  • Engage/let the students feel engaged with their learning
  • Ask instead of  answer questions.
  • Make exercises pertinent to students interests and personalities.
  • Do something rather than talk about something.


It may seem daunting but it really is exciting! It doesn’t always have to be planned, and in-fact, should not always be planned. But the margins are different than teachable moments. Teachable moments are situations where teachers seize an opportunity to instill some insight into their students in the spur of the moment.

“Education is more than assessments and acquisition of knowledge, it’s active inquiry – it’s active participation. It’s a realization of potential and a catalyst of personal development.   -John Dewey

Science teaching provides the clearest path to venturing to the margins. As an future Earth Science and Life Science teacher, the classroom margins and the ecological margins from where their name comes can be one in the same. Outdoor inquiry and exploration are some of the most obvious and relevant ways for these classes to venture to the margins. Discussions between students form, they build an interest, they retain it ten years later – I know I still do from my teachers that took us to the margins.

Image result for outdoor teaching

As an educator, you aren’t just taking the students to the margins – you’re going to. It’s just as critical for the educator to be in the margins to provide an authentic educational experience rather than remove yourself. You don’t know everything, build an authentic classroom environment where everyone learns from each other in the margins.

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