Going Where No Teacher Has Gone Before… THE MARGINS!

Picture this: you’re floating in space, among the thousands of stars, galaxies, and nebulae. You pass by shooting star, and on that shooting star is a tiny alien holding up a sign that says, “follow me!”

We follow our tiny green friend to a new land: The Margins.

“What will I find here?” you ask.

“Here you’ll find students and teachers exploring the outer regions of the classroom. Where knowledge, inquiry, and risk taking are abound!”

What does it mean to teach in the margins?

Teaching in the margins means you are going outside the “centers.” The centers are what come to mind when you think of a traditional classroom:

  • A teacher standing at the front of a classroom
  • Reading verbatim from a slide show
  • Sitting in neat little rows of desks
  • Copying down notes
  • Finishing the chapter with a test

All of those traditional aspects of a classroom are centers. The margins are when teachers and student go beyond these centers, and find themselves pushing the boundaries of what can be done in a classroom.

How can we get to the margins?

Getting to the margins requires key elements be paramount in your classroom:

  • Strong relationships
  • Providing a safe space for students to explore with their thoughts
  • Lots of creative planning
  • Being comfortable with the students leading the learning

Going to the margins isn’t easy, It takes lots of planning, and it can’t happen all the time. The margins don’t exist without the center.

And getting to the margins isn’t only accomplished through the diligent work of a teacher. Students may also take hold of a lesson and bring it to the margins.

What happens in the margins?

The margins allow for you and the students to experience science in a way that is engaging for both students and teacher alike. The science content is presented to the students in a way that is culturally relevant, or realized through inquiry, or inherently interesting to the students. Or all of the above! There are ways to help foster the right environment in the classroom. One of my favorites is:

Have a class pet!

Having a living creature in the classroom gives students the opportunity to learn how to care for, and treat animals that they may be unfamiliar with. It also provides the possibility to experience real life science in the classroom as the animal goes through its natural stages of life and does spontaneous things through out the day.

Other activities that can help take you to the margins are:

  • Socratic debates
  • Student led research
  • Mystery boxes

Is teaching in the margins the same thing as a teachable moment?

No it is not. Teachable moments come about by happenstance. They are little nuggets of opportunity that present themselves to the teacher. Teaching in the margins is the culmination of careful planning, strong trust between teacher and students, and fostered through inquiry everyday.

How will I teach in the margins?

As I’ve outlined above, teaching in the margins isn’t just something that happens. It takes lots of hard work and really intentional relationship building. It has to be said that you won’t get to the margins everyday, the tent poles of school will still get in your way: standardized tests, fire drills, etc.. But through will and determination I will take my classroom to the margins.


  1. Hey Aaron! I really enjoyed reading your post. Your introduction with being in outer space was very fun and whimsical! I thought it was interesting that you brought up the importance of building strong relationships with your students in order to get to the margins. That wasn’t something I had previously considered but I totally agree with you. You talked a little bit at the end about how meeting standards and having to do standardized testing will get in your way of teaching in the margins. In a country that is so concerned with these things, how do you plan on teaching in the margins while still meeting the standards you need to meet? Do you think both can be done at the same time? Great post!

    • I think you can teach in the margins while meeting standards and prepping for standardized tests. It will take a lot of planning and careful curating, but it is definitely possible. But utilizing teaching practices that help you get to the margins will ultimately make your students better learners, hopefully better test takers.

  2. Hi Aaron,
    I really enjoyed your post. All the visuals are great and I love the metaphor of the alien in space. I also really love the idea of having a class pet. I think this provides a way for students to experience caring for an animal that they may have not thought of or appreciated before. Pets are a great way for students to learn not only knowledge and acts but also empathy and kindness to the world around them. What pet would you chose to keep in your classroom if you could have any pet and how would you incorporate the animal into your teaching?

    • I currently have a tortoise that I plan on keeping with me as a transition into my classroom. I think a dream animal to have in a classroom would be a snake. I would hope to help break down the stereotypes of all snakes being dangerous.

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