What are “margins”?
There are margins in nature. Here, the edges of ecosystems interact to create diverse and unpredictable landscapes, plants, and animals who often form symbiotic relationships among these and the surrounding areas.
There are margins in society. Here, individuals, ideas, and methodologies reside at the edges of and beyond societal norms.
There are margins in the classroom.
So, what does it mean to “teach in the margins,” how do margins differ from teachable moments, and how can we extend learning into the margins in our classroom?
What Does it Mean to “Teach in the Margins”?
To understand the margins, we must first define what the margins surround – known as the “center.”
The center of the classroom has been commonly defined
as a text-dominated, monoculture that favors quantity over quality, lacks
individuality, and communicates artificially.
In contrast, teaching in the margins provides students with an environment that is full of diversity, risk, ideas, and flexibility for the student to discover new things.
It’s important to note that learning cannot occur in the margins all the time. A center must exist for margins to exist; thus, teachers can guide students back and forth between the center and the margins.
Teaching in the Margins vs. Teachable moments
Teaching in the margins is fundamentally different from teachable moments. The difference lies in how students develop knowledge when wondering about a phenomenon. The infographic below indicates how margins do not equal teachable moments.
Although students learn via the margins and teachable moments, teachers need to understand the differences and consider which approach is most appropriate when presented with the opportunity to augment student learning.
How to Extend Learning to the Margins
In my classroom, I want to guide students between the center and the margins to make science relevant, interesting, and memorable to my students. As a teacher, I can move science content into the margins by:
- Discussing students’ opinions about scientific issues and current events
- Encouraging students to pose questions for discussion
- Having plants and animals in the classroom
- Creating discovery stations around the classroom
- Promoting student-led projects, labs, and experiments based on questions that interest them
- Exploring science topics relevant to the student and their community
- Exposing students to how science is done in the real world by taking students to commercial/federal labs and science museums, as well as inviting science professionals to share about their work in the classroom
Real-World Activity: Host a debate on an issue, controversy within science. Students work in pairs to present their position on the topic and use scientific evidence, theories, and concepts to support and refute claims.
In this TEDx presentation, Uri Alon discusses the need for scientists to stop thinking in direct lines from question to answer, but rather as something more creative. Teachers can also apply this notion to teaching science in the margins.