Reaching the Margins

Extreme Margins in Nature
Great Plains meets the Rocky Mountains

What are margins? The areas on the side of the paper? The boundaries between two biomes? The fence between two houses? All of these hinge on the topic of what they are not. The center is the unified portion. On paper, the center is where the words are written, the uniformity of a forest is the center, and the house on the property is the center. The center is the place of uniformity, a sense of sameness while the margins are the intersections between two centers. What happens when two distinct items meet? Margins focus on the interactions that happen when not everything is the same.

Getting into the margins

In the same way, margins appear in the classroom as areas of intersections with specific defining features. Among these features are

  • Interactions between differing cultures
  • Risk-taking
  • Entertaining differences
  • Memorable times
  • Novelty

Margins are when students move away from the center of the classroom. Instead of focusing on lectures, notes, homework, and exams, students are invited into a space where they can fully perform as learners invested in the class. The image on the right shows a classroom that has moved away from the center and brought teaching toward the margins

Source: Affolter et al. (2022)

Margins vs. Teachable Moments

Margins have to be camped in for success. A classroom does not move from the center to the margins for a few minutes, but a large portion of time must be set aside for novelty and discussion such that students can create experiences and memories. Teachable moments are the snapshots that focus on one particular message that the teacher can dive into for a moment and move right back into the center. A teachable moment drives a specific point while margins are open to many different inputs and directions.

Dave Preston describes single-point teachable moments that show specific points at proper times during his volleyball practices.

Going to the Margins

Affolter et al. include an activity concerning a driving question board. This activity allows margins to be explored in depth. Starting with a general topic, have students brainstorm questions about the topic and things that they would like to know. Following this, create groups for the students and allow them to dive into one of the questions and search for an answer. Carry out any experiments (if needed), research, and compile evidence to create an answer that can be presented to the class. During this time, the teacher should foster inquiry within the groups and allow for ideas to be pondered by the students.

Without going to the margins, classrooms consist of monocultures where students are not engaged or challenged outside of their comforts. Failing to do this brings about individuals who lack the ability to explore new ideas and excel in different environments.

Affolter, R., L. McNeill, K., & Brinza, G. (2022). Some of You Are Smiling Now. Science Scope, 45(5).


  1. Great blog! I really love how creative you were with your visuals. You also did really well in being straight forward and concise! Your clarity in your explanations is very effective! I wonder, do you think in regard to teachable moments versus teaching in the margins that one is more effective than the other?

    • Thanks for your comment! Both teachable moments and margins have their own separate place in the classroom. Since the center is needed to go to the margins, teachable moments can arise within the center and lead to deeper understanding. On the other hand, margins are vital to moving beyond the center and exploring the diverse and novel topics within the content.

  2. Hi Duncan!
    This is a wonderful post, I love your description of what margins really are, and I think that the photos provided really help drive home the message! My question for you is do you think that teachable moments lie beyond the classroom too?, and if they did happen in the classroom, do they have to be content related?

    • Thank you for your comment! I do believe that teachable moments can appear outside of the classroom. They can be personal which can lead to an increase in personal knowledge. Teachable moments do not have to be content-related. I have run into many situations where a student asks a question that does not relate to the class at all. However, the teacher used that question to dive into the topic for a short while and teach something different but also vital to know.

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