Science Teaching 2.0: From the Center to the Margins

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.

The margin between a crop field and woodlands. Source: https://farmtoclassroom.weebly.com/blog/the-best-place-to-be-is-in-the-margins

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:

https://www.ohio.edu/cas/geology/graduate/ms-non-thesis
  • 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.

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6 Responses to Science Teaching 2.0: From the Center to the Margins

  1. Lauren Colliver says:

    Hi Josie,
    Thanks for reading my post. I’m glad the image I designed for margins vs. teachable moments was clearly understood!

  2. Josie Coffey says:

    Hi Lauren! I absolutely love your image on the margins versus teachable moments, it’s a fantastic and simple explanation! You provided excellent idea on how to put your class in the margins, not no mention, your activity that you’ve come up with is fantastic as well!

  3. Lauren Colliver says:

    Hi Lauren,
    Thanks for checking out my blog post! Great questions – I think learning by doing can be a powerful way for students to experience science so one of my ideas in regard to projects/labs/experiments would be to have students design and implement a semester long project based on one of the topics we cover in the course. It could range from making observations to conducting experiments. This would be entirely student-driven on something that is interesting to them. In doing so, this project would take students into the margins because they would learn science outside the typical classroom setting. Students would ask questions and develop ideas without knowing what the end result of their project will be.
    Cheers!
    Lauren

  4. vajentle says:

    Hi Lauren!
    I really enjoyed reading your post, you really thoroughly explain the difference between teachable moments and teaching in the margins! I also really enjoyed your section on “How to Extend Learning to the Margins” it was super helpful and concise! I really liked your point encouraging student-led projects, labs, and experiments based on questions that interest them. Do you have any ideas for the projects, labs or experiments you might want to implement? And how do you plan on ensuring the student learning is in the margins? I really enjoyed reading your post, thanks for all of the info!!

  5. Lauren Colliver says:

    Hi Riley,
    Thanks for reading my blog post!
    I think the “yes, and” strategy can be effective for guiding students into the margins, especially in science. Some ideas I have on how to implement “yes, and” into my classroom would be 1) during an open class discussion that is prompted by a question or demonstration and 2) when students are stuck on question or concept, “yes, and” can be used to help student discuss what they already know and perhaps spark new ideas or thoughts to help get past what they were struggling with. For an activity, students can take turns doing an improvisation activity where one student chooses as topic to discuss (e.g. chemical bonding, plate tectonics, etc.) and begins with a fact, concept, or theory about the topic. The second student would add to the improv by saying “yes, and” followed by another related fact, concept, or theory. The students can go back and forth until once student cannot add more information to the topic.
    Cheers!
    Lauren

  6. curtisrc says:

    Lauren,
    You did a terrific job at explaining what the teaching in the margins looks like. I loved how you made connecting points between the margins of society, the margins in nature, and inside the classroom. I really enjoyed reading the message about taking risks. I think that would be something GREAT to put up in your classroom on your walls. That can tie into our discussion about the impact of our environment on what we do. That sends a great message to students that would make them more inclined, or give them a confidence boost to step out into the areas of the unknown and explore and investigate. I also think the TedTalk you chose to enhance your message about the margins fits wonderfully. The “yes and” strategy seemed like it would be very effective. Do you have any ideas or suggestions where you think the “yes and” strategy would work best when your heading to the margins with your students? In other words what would be an activity, etc. that would be beneficial for students to build off each other’s ideas in such a way that Uri Alon described?

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