Outside of the Box and In the Margins

What is the best way to teach our students? Is it through hour long lectures, strict note taking and forcing them to sit and listen to us ramble on about a topic they really don’t care about? Or is through creative activities, pursuing the student’s interests and discovering new things as a group?

Hopefully you can see that the latter is a far superior option. But how do we create these situations where learning thrives? To accomplish this, we must be willing to take a trip to the margins.

What does it mean to teach in the margins?

Margins are the outskirts. They are where the ordinary is replaced by the extraordinary and everyday tasks fall way to memorable experiences. Teaching in the margins is focused on student-centered, unique lessons that allow students to truly learn.

What is found in the margins?

  • Experiences that lead to memorable knowledge
  • New perspectives on learning
  • Student Curiosity
  • Visible interest and passion
  • Expansion of basic topics
  • Experimentation and discovery

What is not found in the margins?

  • “I talk, you listen” class structure
  • Required note taking
  • Pure memorization to the fault of true learning
  • Silent classes
  • No discussion
  • Experiments with a known result
Watch as this teacher heads into the margins with his student’s love of music!

How do we get to the margins?

  • Have instructional conversation to understand how your students learn best
  • Understand you student’s interests and passions
  • Be willing to take risks
  • Plan times where you allow your students to learn in new ways
  • Use as many opportunities as possible to stray from classic teaching methods
  • Allow your students to direct the flow of the classroom

Getting to the margins can be done by students, teachers or the whole class working together. But no matter who is leading the path, there must be a clear plan to ensure the success of your trip into the margins.

Teachable Moments vs Teaching in the Margins

Teachable moments are an everyday occurrence for most teachers. Students ask questions, make a mistake or something happens in the classroom that can lead to an interesting discussion. But unlike teaching in the margins, teachable moments are just that. Moments.


In the Margins in My Classroom

My goal is to be the most exemplary science teacher that I can possibly be. I know to accomplish this, I must often take risks, engage my students and most importantly, travel into the margins.

Here are a few ideas I have to lead my own students into the margins

  • Bring animals into the classroom
  • Bring science into our own backyards
  • Student directed science fairs for elementary classes
  • Exploration centers throughout the room
  • Student designed experiments
  • Interactive demonstrations
  • Group community service projects
Why is it so important to teach in the margins in our science classes?


  1. Great post Natalie! I loved the video where the teacher brought their students out into the margins using hip-hop. It was great to see the teacher willing to adapt to the student’s interest in order to engage them and help them learn in a fun way. It definitely did benefit both the students and the teacher. I also love your idea of implementing exploration centers throughout the classroom – what are some ways or centers that you plan on having?

    • I think that exploration centers could be a great way to peak student’s interest. These centers could change as we go through the content areas, or they could remain consistent for the whole year to observe long-term changes. For a chapter about the atomic model, interactive building molecules could be set up to visualize the parts of the atom, along with a cathode ray to visualize the discovery of the electron. My chemistry teacher had a cathode ray, and seeing it caused a very big impact on us. Although this is somewhat silly- one of my teachers had a decomposition center, where he had pieces of foods students had brought in jars so we could visualize the decomposition, or lack of, Some of these foods included a big mac, a twinkie, french fries and a sucker. Some of the pieces he had had for years. Although this was not directly related to the chapter we were on, it was a great way to get us interested!This center could be related to the breakdown of carbs, lipids and sugars!

  2. Hi Natalie! This was such a great post. My favorite part was the video about bringing hip hop into the science classroom. This is such a good way to get kids excited to go to science class, even if science doesn’t happen to be their favorite subject. You also had some other great ideas on how to teach in the margins in the classroom. Which one do you think students would enjoy most and be the most effective? Why?

    • I really liked that teacher’s approach. Music was an obvious passion his students had, so relating that to a subject matter they may not like or understand helps them enjoy and become interested in it. I think it also helped the students relate to the teacher and build better relationships within the classroom. I think that one of my favorite ways to go into the margins is bringing animals into the classroom. In my 6th grade science class, my teacher had 2 chinese water dragons and 3 leopard geckos. Every day students would take turns holding and feeding them. Then each week, we would clean their cages. Towards the end of the year, one of the geckos became pregnant. We took many class periods researching the pregnancy cycles of geckos, and how to best take care of the mother gecko. It was a very memorable experience that the whole class got excited about. Not only do animals get students excited and curious, they can also teach them responsibility and compassion towards animals. Plus, animals are so cool! Who wouldn’t want them in your classroom?

  3. Hi Natalie!
    I really enjoyed your post. I like how your ted talk argued that doing demos in class is not enough to be teaching in the margins. It’s all about sparking the interest and curiosity of your students so they never run out of questions. While this is a risk, like you said, to give your students so much freedom in what and how they learn. If done properly, teaching in the margins can truly make an impact on your students. What would you say to a teacher who believes that teaching in the margins would never work because students will take advantage of you and the class will become too much to handle?

    • I think many teachers assume demos are enough to get their kids interested and involved. But it definitely is not! While it is typically more interesting than listening to a lecture, just watching a demo does not allow students to explore, discover or be curious in the classroom. I think that most student’s would handle the responsibility well. As data and other successful “margin” classrooms show, these students actually preform better and are more curious. Additionally, just because you allow your students to be autonomous over their work does not mean you let them do absolutely whatever they want, whenever they want. Just as in any classroom, basic rules and restrictions should be put in place to insure your time in the margins is safe and successful. Students do not want to sit silently, watching a teacher lecture all day. They want to be curious, to interact and explore. All you have to do is give them the opportunity to prove it to you.

  4. I think that your title is very creative and I really like the amount of time and effort you put into this. I enjoyed the Ted Talk video and I thought the margins video about a teacher and his music with his students was a wonderful example!

    • Thank you! When I read the article about teaching in the margins, it reminded me of thinking outside of the box. As teachers, in order to teach in the margins it is very necessary to be creative and think outside of the typical teaching ‘box”. I thought combining the two would make a good title that conveyed my thoughts. I was very happy I found that video. Although he doesn’t specifically talk about the margins, it is obvious he is teaching in them. He took something his students were passionate about and brought it into the classroom to inspire and motivate them to learn. If that is not teaching in the margins, I don’t know what is!

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