“[Margins] are places where diversity in species exist, where life is often riskier for its inhabitants, and where species have the freedom to flourish and experiment. They are the areas at the edges of ecosystems and bioregions.”
The dictionary definition of “margins” is known as the outside limit and adjoining surface of something. When we apply it to the quote and image above, a seashore would act as a textbook definition for an ecological margin, but how do we apply that concept to our classrooms? Well, as ecological margins act as a space where life is often tested to its limits, teaching in the margins involve pushing the limits of what can be done and learned in an educational setting.
For far too long, the notion of teaching has revolved around the teachers being the experts and students solely being the listeners. This creates a banking model of education where students are expected to absorb and regurgitate information without any regard for critical thinking
Teaching in the margins goes beyond textbooks, filler worksheets, and lectures. It creates an environment where both the teacher and the students are pushed to think critically and create a learning environment where creativity and flexibility thrive . This involves teachers to create and guide inquiry-based lessons that inspire discussion. It involves students to take the reins of their education and create their own questions, experiments, and inquiries.
But there is indeed a risk factor. Maybe your first attempts to teach in the margins blow up in your face and your students didn’t get much out of the lesson. But that too is okay. As the old saying goes…
The Differences Between Teachable Moments and Teaching in the Margins
- Results from questions that follow closely to the curriculum
- Are moments that teachers usually know the answer to based on their own experiences
- Can only really be reactive (e.g. the student asks a question and the teacher answers it)
- Creates an “aha!” moment but is usually fleeting after the question has been answered
Teaching in the Margins:
- Involves exploring concepts that go beyond what is expected by the curriculum
- Potentially puts the classroom in the position where both the student and the teacher is learning (allows for curiosity to thrive with open-ended questions)
- Can be both proactive or reactive (e.g. the teacher creates an open-ended inquiry lesson or a student asks a thoughtful question that sparks a guided discussion)
- Creates more opportunities for “aha!” moments that persist throughout their education
This sounds great and all, but how do I start implementing the margins in my classroom?
I believe the first step into establishing these margins is to create a trusting relationship between you and your students. Trust in their innate creative and academic abilities and foster the growth of their self-efficacy. The ways you can encourage this mindset involves:
- Allowing your students to create their own questions and lead their own investigations (with a little guidance if necessary)
- Creating a space where every student has time to reflect and share their thoughts and results without fear of mistakes or judgment
- Not shying away from current and controversial events. Discussing and debating ethics in science is a great topic that is usually ignored in the science curriculum
- Not being afraid to “limit test” and make mistakes. The best way for your students to learn and appreciate authentic science is to encourage them to embrace mistakes as a learning opportunity. Students would rather learn alongside a humble student than a perfect robot.
Here are some activities that could promote margin-based teaching:
- Debating the ethics of cloning animals on a scientific and societal level
- Exploring the effects of acids and bases on small objects (of the student’s choosing)
- Exploring how hippos and whales evolved from their common ancestor