A Journey with Exploring the Margins

What are margins? In nature, margins are a place where diversity is both embraced and entertained. In ecological settings, margins can be described as the most highly trafficked places in the world. Edges of cornfields, tide pools, and other environments where life science is embraced can all be considered margins. Where margins are utilized in nature, nature flourishes. In a classroom setting, margins can be describes as a place where students get to explore their learning in a more exciting and fulfilling way. Without the constraints of rules or regulations, margins provide students with an opportunity to take control of their learning.

How can we encourage students and teachers to go to the margins? Margins in nature can be unpredictable and uncomfortable. Learning can also be this way. In order to change the structure of learning in an educational setting, teachers have to incorporate tools in their classroom that promote critical thinking skills and creativity. Here are some ideas on where to start:

  • Classroom pets
  • Class gardens
  • Interactive learning environment (promote hands on learning)

Turning away from the traditional classroom experience. Often times, classrooms are set up with a sterile and monoculture environment that discourages individuality among students. Instruction in these settings tend to focus more heavily on being teacher-led instead of teacher-facilitated. If schools are wanting to have their students go to the margins and gain valuable information from their experiences, change to instruction must me made.

Take a look at how MCMS encourages its students to explore the margins in their learning. In this demonstration, the outdoor activity is facilitated by the instructor in a way that allows students to think critically about the environment that they are interacting with. Hands on learning is promoted, and throughout the video the students seem excited with where their learning is taking them.

Teaching in the Margins vs. Teachable Moments. While both opportunities can lead students to questioning the world around them, they are very different in their execution. Most times, teaching in the margins is heavily student led and teacher facilitated. This differentiates from teachable moments because most teachable moments are teacher led, having the students follow along on the explanation before moving on. Here are a few examples of how the two experiences differ for a more visual representation:

Teaching in the Margins

  • Often student led
  • fueled by curiosity and exploration
  • inspires lifelong critical thinking

Teachable Moments

  • Often teacher led
  • lesson based; answers specific question
  • Student retains new information, moves on

Let’s look into the future. As science educators, we want to inspire and support our students’ creativity both inside and out of the classroom. When taking into consideration the importance of teaching in the margins, teachers are able to grasp an idea of how they want learning to look like in their classroom. These are some of the ways I plan on going to the margins with my own students:

Incorporation of a Class Pet!

I want to have organisms in the class that my students are able to interact with to further inspire their learning. Students have fun with class pets, and it makes them wonder about life science all around them in a playful way

Student-led Activities

By having students take back control over their learning, they will be more willing to put in effort instead of just simply doing an activity because they have to. This will also inspire students to ask their own questions, rather than following precedural instructions that influences them on how they are “supposed” to think.

Interactive learning environments

Similar to the MCMS video, I want to express to my future administration the importance of having engaging opportunities for learning outside of the classroom. Butterfly gardens, bird watching enclosures, and other opportunities for hands on observation will spark student curiosity that can take them far in their learning.

Lesson plans to consider…

  • “Show and tell” activity: where students bring in a life science object they discovered outside of the classroom and present to the class their findings and research they’ve done on that object
  • Design and create their OWN experiment: following the scientific method, students can explore a topic that is interesting to them, conducting and sharing their findings with their peers on their observed results (example: which dish soap is best? Is there a best brand?)

Keep exploring (social media twitter link):



  1. Hey Maddie, I really loved your emphasis on going outside of the classroom when exploring the margins. This gives a vital experience for students to take what they are learning out of the classroom and into the world. It also gives a change of pace from the norm through a different environment. However, in the instance that a class can not leave the classroom or the school campus, how do you think a teacher could create a different environment from the daily classroom for their students?

    • Hey Duncan!
      I think that providing an interactive environment to foster students’ learning can be done in a number of ways. When the weather is nicer, be open to taking students outside where there could be pond, forest, or walking trails that you can use to your advantage when teaching a lesson such as ecology. When the weather is poorer, utilizing lab stations and large desk tables can also be a goal to have. I think that giving students tools to be involved in their given environment can not only help them make more connections to content, but motivate them as well!

  2. Hey Maddie,
    I really enjoyed reading your blog post. I especially liked the chart comparing teachable moments and the margins. It really cleared up some of the confusion that I had about this in a simple yet effective manner. I also thought the idea of including SPECIFIC potential lesson plans was really great. One question i have for you is regarding your idea of turning away from the traditional classroom experience. While I agree this is not good to do all of the time, is it not important to embrace that traditional experience at least somewhat in order to establish a center in which to build to the margins from?

    • Hey Max! I definitely think that there are times where a more traditional style of teaching can be more appropriate for a lesson. Time where learning different vocabulary, for example, can be taught in a more lecture-based way in order to establish clear definitions without any misconceptions on different concepts. Maybe introducing a topic this way and then diving into more creative, margin-based learning could help provide more of a foundation for students.

  3. Hi Maddie, I love the talk about using a class pet to enter the margins. I have seen both areas where a class pet has helped this and where a class pet was merely a pet. In elementary, we raised butterflies and we also hatched eggs in classes. This was an incredible way to work into the margins and experience science events happening in real life and time. In another, my teacher had a pet snake, which was kind of just there. I think this happened because the snake did not connect directly to the class. How do you think you could incorporate a class pet into getting students to explore the margins when it doesn’t connect to content as clearly?

    • Hey Melinda! I know one day I want to have frogs in my classroom and maybe I will have them explore the different stages of metamorphosis. By having students observe my classroom pets at their final frog stage, they can explore and research the different cellular processes between each of the different stages of metamorphosis. Australian tree frogs also change color in reaction to their environment. I could have my students observe the color that the frogs are showing, and conduct different tests (pH, temperature and water content) in the cage to see how different factors effect their coloring!

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