Let’s Go to the Margins

Imagine with me for a moment if you will that we are going on a walk on the beach. And on this walk we’ll stay walking in the sand. Now, we might find some cool shells or rocks, but we probably won’t see much of anything interesting. Let’s start walking where the water meets the sand. Here we might find sand dollars, sea stars who need help getting home, and maybe even a horseshoe crab.

Growing up my friends and I would spend hours right in that area of the beach that wasn’t quite water and wasn’t quite sand. We’d turn over rocks to look for crabs and every now and then a horseshoe crab would be sent a shore and we’d have the interesting task of helping it find it’s way home. It was quite a fun time.

Now, you’re probably think, why are we talking about this?

Well, this area, between the sand and the ocean, is a margin. And just as we journey out to these margins in nature, so too can teachers in the classroom. And the learning students take from the margins is something they will remember forever.

$2.57 Million in Grants Will Improve the Health of Long Island Sound : New  York Trend Online
Here’s a photo that show the margin between the Long Island Sound and the Beach!

But what are margins?

Margins are “places of harmony, diversity, and freedom…Margins push into new areas, worlds, places, and potentialities” From Exploration, Risk-Taking, and Wonderment: Traveling to the Margins of Instruction

Let’s break down what that means when it comes to teaching.

Margins are:

Places of diverse learning

Margins are places where students can ask questions and engage with topics in ways they might not have considered before. Margins provide enrichment that isn’t provided in a typical classroom.

Each student that explores the same margin will not have the same experience as the rest of their students in their class. Margins provide opportunities for students to make the learning experience their own.

Filled with endless potential and endless information

Because margins are constantly growing and changing, what they offer is endless. Year after year you can return to the margins with a new classroom of students and experience something totally different from years past.

Outside Classroom - Catamount Institute
Check out a snapshot of students learning both in metaphorical and literal margins!

Push students to explore new ideas, topics, and ways of learning

Because margins are filled with endless potential and endless information, margins push students to explore everything the margin has to offer. Margins give space for students to ask questions they’re curious about. Once they’ve asked questions, they have the autonomy to explore the answers in new and exciting ways!

Places of risk and growth.

In nature margins are unpredictable environments, but for organisms that live in the margins the result can be amazing. The same is true for our classes. Learning in the margins present many risk factors; but when we travel to the margins and strive to make the best of our experience in the margins, what and how we learn will be unlike anything we’ve experienced before.

What are some ways we can travel to the margins?

Traveling to the margins may seem difficult at first but here our some lessons to help you get started thinking about how you would travel to the margins!

Take students to an amusement park and in between rides discuss the physics involved in making the ride fun, functional, and safe!

Check out this article on the physics behind amusement park rides!

Try an owl pellet dissection! It will help introduce students to dissections and ask questions before gathering and assessing data to answer their questions!

Here’s an article all about how to do your own owl pellet dissection!

I grew up near the Long Island Sound, and one of my favorite days was a field trip where we performed different experiments on the beach to answer questions about the sound. I even got do build my own city and watch what happened when it flooded!

Here’s a cool resource about lessons to at a LIS field site! Do you have any areas near your school that would allow you to travel to the margins?

This teacher worked with students to make pop-fly launchers that helped them learn engineering. And it sounds like here kids loves it!

Don’t Forget to Return to the Center

The margins are great, and the opportunities they provide are even better. But we can lose our learning objectives and our direction if we don’t return to the center every now and then.

But what is the center?

Think of your traditional classroom with the teacher at the front and the students at their desks.

Now your center doesn’t have to look like a lecture every time you return to the center, students can be in discussion groups talking about what you learned or you can have a whole group discussions. Do long as you return to the center and have a way to debrief what the students learned in the margins.

It Needs to be Intentional

Traveling to the margins is an intentional act. Occasionally we might find ourselves in a teachable moment where we can learn a lesson from something that happened. But we go to the margins instead with the intention of learning. The learning that happens in the margins is not accidental.

TLDL (too long, didn’t read)

This is how I like to think of the margins. With the center as our traditional classroom and what’s outside as the “real world” of science. The margins are the place between.

We need to journey there so students can eventually travel to the world outside our classroom, but we also must return to our classroom to debrief what we learn in the margins so students can take that information with them when they leave.

How will you travel to the margins?

See you next week!

Ms. Brennan


  1. Hi Michael!

    I think it could be super awesome to include something like TLDL in the classroom. In my sophomore year english class each person would take turns taking minutes and then would summarize what we covered in class the next day. We would also have to give a “gift” to the class. The gift could be anything, and often times reflected the students individual interests in connection to what we were talking about. When we read “All the Light we Cannot See” one student brought in a radio they made themselves! Having something like this in class would be a great introduction in going to the margins and would get students involved in creative ways that connected to their interests!

  2. Hey Ellie,
    Your blog was incredible! I loved all of the media you included within your blog — especially the tweet showing the joy that can be had when teaching in the margins. Immediately I felt like you took the reader on a journey which made the points you covered later stick just a bit more. Even if it was imaginary for most readers, the (now personal) example of a beach margin acted as the glue for your content to stick to. I loved the inclusion of a TLDR, and I wonder if you think you’d utilize that within the classroom — perhaps even with student input? Keep up the great work! I look forward to your next blog post.

  3. Hi Luke!

    I think that moving to the margins can be risky if you and your class don’t feel ready to go the margins. Yes, the margins are an unpredictable place of growth, but going there takes some preparation. Especially when it’s new to students. Schools traditionally spend so much time in the center of the class, that going to the margins can pose risk for students who have never been there before. While the teacher may know that the rewards out weigh the risks, the students don’t always see it that way.

  4. Hi Ellie!
    I thought your blog was great! I loved all the resources and examples of teachers going to the margins that you included. I thought that your idea about a field trip to an amusement park would be such a great lesson in physics concepts, while also engaging students in the most fun way! I also really appreciated your point that teachers could go to the margins every year with new students and discover something completely different every time. I think this combats the notion of teacher burnout and offers teachers a chance to life-long learn. You also mentioned that moving to the margins might be risky, what kind of risks are associated with this process?

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