Road-Tripping to the Margins

What are Margins

“Margins are those interfaces between woods and fields, the land and the sea, along abandoned railroad tracks and highways, between residential areas, along flooding and receding rivers, between prairies and forests, and at the seashore. These areas are places where DIVERSITY in species EXISTS, where life is often RISKIER for its inhabitants, and where species have the freedom to FLOURISH and EXPERIMENT

– Ann E. Haley-Oliphant

Staying in the “center” of the classroom

Margins cannot exist without the “center”. That being said, these classroom environments are typically monocultural and are a place where students feel constrained. Staying in the “center” emphasizes the teachers control over the flow of the interaction, information, and discourse of the classroom. Static environments like these do not help students to create a growth mindset.

  • Lecture heavy
  • Textbook-based instruction
  • Lack of curiosity and wonder
  • Teacher holds control
  • Risk of Disenfranchisement
  • Fosters homogenous thought, talk, and action
  • Doesn’t allow student imagination, wondering, and speculation to flourish
This is a great TEDtalk explaining why student-centered learning allows for students to make meaningful, lasting connections with course content

Moving to the Margins

Teaching should start in the “center” and when the opportunity arises, the lesson should move to the margins. The margins are healthier places for teachers and their students to experience science. Even though teachers release control over the lesson when in the margins, they still actively participate through conversation with students and the subject matter. Instructional margins create more space for teachers and students to share personal experiences as well as deepen their connection to not only each other, but the material in a meaningful way.

  • Student-led discussion
  • Incorporates inquiry-based and project-based learning activities
  • Facilitated discussions
  • Teacher gives up some control to spark student engagement
  • Allows students to enlarge their worldview of various topics
  • Creates space for students to ask unpredictable and diverse questions
  • Student-centered
  • Freedom for the learner to discover their own learning

Aren’t Teachable Moments & Teaching in the Margins the same?

This diagram will help differentiate between being in the margins and “teachable” moments.

How to Bring the Margins into the Classroom

  • A curious question such as a fun “bell ringer”
    • Brain busters get our brains working, promote divergent thinking and cooperative learning.
  • Science related current events
  • Adjust your schedule to allow time to take a trip to the margins
  • Create space rather than dismissing student thought
  • Be able to read your students
    • non-verbal behavior!
  • Adopting a class pet

We as educators need to incorporate these margins into our practices as often as possible. The margins are a place where students can EXPLORE NEW POSSIBILITIES. They are a place where students and teachers are able to EXPRESS IDEAS with one another and make CONNECTIONS freely. It may seem more risky or unsettling to take a trip to the margins but it’s where your students have the potential to FLOURISH.

Take risks, you never know when one will turn into a turning point in a child’s life


  1. Hey Hannah,
    I loved your Venn diagram. the comparison between teachable moments and teaching in the margins helped solidify the difference for me. The bolded words helped pull my attention to the important ideas as well. I love your idea of student discussions. I like respecting the wisdom the students have is just as important if not more important as the topics we need to cover for the exams. Are there ways to foster teachable moments in a classroom as well as teaching in the margins? Can they happen at the same time?

    • Thank you! I think there are definitely ways to foster teachable moments in a classroom as well as teaching in the margins! I believe that teachers can use teachable moments in the classroom to then transition into the margins. For example when a student asks a question and the teacher takes the time to explain the why behind the answer to that student (teachable moment) the teacher then could ask another follow-up question that moves the class discussion into the margins.

  2. Hi Hannah, I loved your post. What a great quote to start out with. I love how you compared and contrasted teachable moments and teaching in the margins, I think you made some great points in that Venn diagram.

  3. I really loved this post. It was very easy to read and the bolded words/phrases really helped show what was important to note! I liked the diagram comparing teachable moments and going to the margins, it really helped me differentiate! The video you linked was really helpful as well, a super important message to keep in mind in our future classrooms. It is very important to let students take initiative and lead in the classroom. Do you have any strategies for encouraging students in classroom or small group leadership?

    • Thank you for reading! I think encouraging students in classroom or small group leadership can be as simple as increasing cooperative learning activities within the classroom. The more students are actively interacting with course content as well as their peers, the more comfortable and confident they will be which in turn will result in an increase in student leadership!

  4. This blog post was SUPER engaging. You included lots of awesome explanations and ideas in a compact way. I loved the idea of the bell ringer so students can begin class sharing their unique ideas. I will definitely implement this scientifically! While teachable moments and the margins are important, which should we utilize more as educators? Great post!

    • I think that as educators we should teach in the margins as often as possible. Teachers should use teachable moments to transition into the margins! This will push students to engage more with the course content.

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