Embracing the Power of Margins in the Science Classroom

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” – Robert Frost

Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken,” is incredibly powerful and is often referenced in numerous circumstances. Here I challenge you to apply Frost’s beautiful prose to the teacher has who dares to teach in the margins.

What are the margins?

This picture depicts the natural margins between the land and the beach.
Source: https://www.nps.gov/articles/coastal-sediments-parent-material.htm
  • Margins are a space of diverse intersectionality, on the outside of orthodoxy and normalcy.
  • In nature margins occur where the land meets the sea, where the road meets the grass line, where deserts meet the brush.
  • In the classroom, margins occur when…
    • There is student driven questioning and discussions
    • Lessons are planned to be relevant and personal to the students
    • Flexibility is practiced by students and teachers alike
    • Lessons are led (at least in part) through inquiry.

Why should educators dare to teach in the margins?

  • Margins allow for the development of creativity and critical thinking skills within students and teachers alike.
  • Margins allow for the enrichment of the curriculum, allowing students to gain deeper understanding and knowledge of topics presented.

Teaching in the Margins is Exemplary Teaching.
When an educator teaches within the margins, they actively engage with student-driven activities to deepen understanding and connection with the topic, all the while, developing their students’ creativity and critical thinking skills.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/07/learning/lesson-plans/making-it-relevant-helping-students-connect-their-studies-to-the-world-today.html

Teaching in the margins allows for teachers to elevate their students to a new plane of understanding and challenges their notions of what science “is” to the wonders of what is “can be.”

STEM at MCMS have created a short video on what it can mean to teach in the margins along with real world examples of what this can mean in the science classroom. I challenge you to watch this video and see how teaching in the margins bolsters student learning and drives further science curiosity.

Have you watched? It’s evident that students and teachers alike deeply benefit from this exercise!

Teachable moments and teaching in the margins are two separate things, but they are both valuable in their own regard.

  • Teachable moments: occur spontaneously. They are exactly what the name portrays them as: moments. They occur closely related to the curriculum.
  • Teaching in the margins: can occur spontaneously or not spontaneously. This occurs through exploring in more depth the outskirts of the curriculum.

Source: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Embrace-The-Teachable-Moments

How can teaching in the margins be applied within my classroom?

  • If during a unit in Physics concerning Electricity and Magnetism (P.EM)…
    • The “center” of the class would be lectured content about the theory and math behind magnetism
    • Going into the margins, my students would explore…
      • Posed Class Questions: How do different magnets work differently? How can we explore the magnetic field? How are we affected by magnets?
      • Hands-On Student Involvement: This would be completed through making our own electromagnet and playing with different shaped magnets. This would also include diving into their own worlds and researching different ways in which magnets are used in everyday life.
Source: http://sainspc4.blogspot.com/2013/04/magnets.html
  • If occurring in a biology classroom…
    • The “center” of the class would be discussing diversity and the interdependence of life.
    • Going into the margins, my students would explore…
      • Classroom pets and plants. The ability to care for and maintain different environments for the plants and animals alike would give new perspective and meaning to what ecosystems are what biodiversity is. Both plants and animals alike could prompt students to think deeper and connect lessons about loss of diversity and their classroom turtle or their classroom bell pepper plant!
Source: http://pokenwright.com/blog/whats-being-learned-here-the-class-pets-project/

I hope you will join me as I strive to teach in the margins. Join me in taking the road less traveled, because it will make all the difference for our students and ourselves.


  1. Hey Colleen! I thought your description of teachable moments versus teaching to the margins was very helpful. I appreciated how you differentiated between the amount of time in which the learning is taking place, I think that’s a really good way of thinking about it. I think allowing time for the discoveries in the margins to take place would help students remember those experiences for their whole life. I also liked your use of the Robert Frost quote, I think it’s important to infuse all sort of different subjects (like poetry) into the science classroom.

    • Hi Tommy, thank you so much for taking the time to read and interact with my post! I think that science classes can sometimes seem isolated, or only relating to math. In reality, science, history, english, art, and math are all interrelated. I want to strive to make my classroom interdisciplinary in that students understand the connects between all subjects.

  2. Colleen,
    I adored this blog post! I loved how many creative and vivid images you used. They really captured my attention and highlighted the content you provided on your perspective about teaching in the margins. I also really liked your ideas on taking your class to the margins in a physics and biology class. Your physics excursion to the margins stood out to me especially specifically with your question on how we are affected my magnets/magnetism. A question like that involves critical thinking and building off one another’s ideas. It can also be looked at from multiple perspectives and angles, and the content connects to student’s lives by asking the impact magnets can have on us; another question you might want to ask to continue student curiosity and investigation could be: How might our world be altered without the property of magnetism on earth?

    • Riley, thank you so much for taking the time to read my post! I have not thought about framing a question in a “what if” scenario. That really would also bring in different science disciplines! I think it’s really important to not look at your science as an isolated class, so this example of a question really helps to bridge gaps between different content.

  3. Hi Colleen! Thank you for your insights on teaching in the margins! Your opening quote was definitely a great one to choose and reflects teachers who travel to the margins very accurately. I thoroughly enjoyed the video you shared that gives many ways to teach in the margins! The applications of teaching in the margins is very well-written. I love how you utilized a Physics concerning Electricity and Magnetism lesson. Your posed class questions and hands-on student environment will definitely allow the classroom to travel into the margins! Thank you again for such an empowering post. 🙂

    • Brooklyn, thank you so much for taking the time to read and interact with my post! I think that it is important to sometimes plan times in which you will venture to the margins with your students. Although it can come spontaneously (and we should embrace those spontaneous margin visits as well), it is also good to have a plan for enrichment of the material!

  4. Colleen,
    Amazing post! Robert Frost had it right: it is better to take the road less traveled but certainly it is not always easier. It is here in the margins (or the road less traveled) that the unexpected, the difference, and the best things can happen. Thank you for applying exactly how you might apply teaching in the margins in different areas of focus in science. I think that plants and animals are especially effective bridges to the margins–creatures are fascinating and I think students benefit more than we know from being able to connect with and learn about living things. P.S. LOVE the turtle 🙂

    • Emilia, thank you so much for taking the time to read my post! I really appreciate your perspective and your love of the addition of adding plants and animals to the classroom. It’s so important to try to take the road less travel. The extra effort that we put in as educators can make all the differences not only within our students’ lives but our own lives as well.

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