Margins- Exploring the Mysteries of Life with our Students

I wanted to start with this quote from former Civil Rights Leader & U.S Rep, John Lewis. This quote has a lot of applicability to many scenarios in our political and social world, but I think it can extend to teaching in the margins as well. Going to the margins means taking risks alongside our students, and engaging in science in a way that is truly authentic. I think getting into good and necessary ‘trouble’ in the science classroom can look like so many different things because the margins are an unknown territory, due to the authentic nature of student curiosity (or teacher initiation) that drives its’ destination. Margins are where student exploration and creativity will explode. These unknown places are where there is potential to know through the process of inquiry. Allowing students to engage in the “how’s?” and straying away from the “what’s?” are a good indication you’re giving your students the opportunity to head to the margins. So buckle up!

What does teaching in the Margins look like?!

I created this diagram to help explain what teaching in the margins means. In this diagram, the margins are depicted as the edge, the place that only exists because of its surroundings (Margins cannot exist without the center of instruction). If you can visualize margins as a place for potential and possible growth, imagine someone pinching & stretching out the spot where the margins reside (blue triangles), eventually both bubbles will get bigger and bigger. By spending time in the margins there is now more room created for knowledge and action. The center of instruction also grows, and it becomes healthier when the margins push to new possibilities. Margins are the connecting points between knowledge and action, teachers and students, students and students, and students and content.

Margins in nature…

In This Ted Talk below, Karen Maeyens explores the power of asking questions. She explains how asking questions can have a snowball effect, generating more questions, and more things to be curious about. Asking questions are a great way to embark on a journey to the margins! This can be done in all aspects of life, including the science classroom. She discusses how asking questions can lead us to creating our own, innovative maps in which we investigate. Maeyens sends a powerful message about how being curious and asking questions can take us to diverse areas to explore and make sense of our surrounding world.

How might we embark on this journey to the margins?

In the words of Lady Gaga! 🙂
  1. Asking students questions or their opinions about scientific issues
    1. “What method would you use to locate correct data for COVID-19 numbers?”, “Why does it matter where we get this data from?”, “How can schools/business use this data to help inform their decisions to operate safely amid a nation pandemic?”
    2. “How can we, as a class, do our part to reduce our impacts on climate change?”, “Why should we engage in these practices?”
  2. We can encourage discussions within our students that extend content lessons
    1. For example: after talking about how certain organisms blend in with their environment as a defense mechanism (camouflage), we then put students into small groups and have them come up with an example of an organism that does this, and they can investigate and research why and how this organism does this or other questions they want to explore to deepen their understanding of this scientific phenomenon.
  3. Put animals in our classrooms- This will spark compounding questions that students can generate off their own curiosity. This will be a great starting point to inquire alongside our students. Some of these students Q’s could look like:
    1. “Why do lizards shed their skin?”
    2. “Why do our two class beta fish have to be in separate tanks when ur two class goldfish can be together?”


  1. Hi Riley! Thank you for sharing your thoughts on teaching in the margins. (I may be having a computer technical error, but your first image would not load, so I had to copy and paste it into my search bar to make it appear…) I have never heard the quote from John Lewis before, but it is definitely one that will stick with me! The connection you made with his quote to teaching in the margins is not one I would have ever made, but you absolutely got it right! The “good” kind of trouble is just what teaching in the margins is. The statement you made in regards to the connecting points in a classroom was very well put, “…between knowledge and action, teachers and students, students and students, and students and content.” I really enjoyed the ideas you posed for student questions and discussions. Thank you again for sharing! 🙂

    • Brooke,
      Thank you for taking the time to reflect on my blog post. I, too, made good sense out of the diagram I created and seeing how knowledge and action, students and content., etc. gets heightened and rejuvenated by spending time out in the margins.

  2. Hi Riley! Oh my goodness, you have given me so much to think about when it comes to teaching in the margins. First off the quote about getting into “good and necessary trouble” and relating that to your science classroom was so thought provoking. I think it is key to model the engagement in the material that you want to see in your students, which is what I take away from your discussion of what this quote means to you! Shifting gears to further in your paper, you mention that class pets would be a way to take students to the margins. I agree that animals and plants are excellent ways to engage students. Have you thought about how you will introduce the classroom animals within a lesson, or will you have them there and you will let questions arise organically?

    • Colleen,
      Thank you so much for what you had to say and add about the John Lewis quote in the science classroom. To answer your question, I haven’t thought much about how I would introduce the planimals. I would say that I would just allow questions to arise naturally based on student curiosity. If I found a connecting point that I wanted to tie into a lesson, I would. This might look like a lesson on organisms blending in with their environments, and if I had a chameleon in there (my current planimal), I would point those features out during that unit. Thank you!

  3. Hi Riley,
    Insightful perspectives on teaching in the margins! I found the Ted Talk and the affect of asking questions to be especially applicable to science teaching in the margins. Asking questions is not only beneficial in the classroom, but it is also a useful mindset for students when presented with the multitude of information and opinions that surround them everyday. What might be some ways you would have your students share what they learned as a result of their questions with the class?

    • Lauren,
      Thank you for checking out my blog post! Some ways I would have my students share what they learned after investigating their questions would be dependent on the context of the inquiry/ experiment itself. For instance, if students researched different species in the tropics they could orally explain their findings or show pictures, etc., but if the student is able to bring something in, like a plant or animal and show us demonstrations, etc. that could also be a possibility. Thank you for your question it really got me thinking about some ways I could assess student understand and have the class further explore their findings.

  4. Hi Riley,
    Great post! I really liked how you were able to connect your beginning quote to the world of science education. It certainly can apply and the margins could in fact lead a classroom into “good trouble”. Moreover, you are correct in that it is so important that students recognize the power of asking questions and not to be afraid of this. It is so sad we have teachers who still continue with the line, “don’t ask stupid questions”. When a teacher does this, I think they lose a lot of students who are already hesitant to speak in class out of fear of “asking a stupid question”. That being said, I think it is really smart to explicitly remind your students that questions are good and even experts have questions! Questions help initiate learning and could allow for teaching in the margins.

    • Emilia, Thank you for reading my blog post and sharing your reflection. I’m glad to see that you like the “good trouble” application to teaching in the margins. I appreciate how you took the TED talk one step further in suggesting how important it is that students aren’t afraid to ask questions, and how saying “don’t ask stupid questions can discourage students from venturing to the margins. Thank you for your thoughts.

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