Atomic Habits: Both Big and Small

Atomic habits are seemingly insignificant actions you take in your life every day (such as practicing a language for 20 minutes a day). The power of the atomic habit is when repeated day after day and year after year, the result is immeasurable and even atomic to our progress (Clear, 2018). Twenty minutes of Spanish per day for a year will likely result in you having a decent knowledge base and ability to communicate in your new language.

Atomic habits can be useful in ALL aspects of life. An atomic habit can help you change your outlook on life, make you a healthier person, turn you into a better student, make you a better partner/spouse, or revamp your professional life.

Atomic habits can include a diverse set of things. This graphic shows just some of the aspects of life that can improve when you strive to make small changes over time to your life.

The Three Layers of Behavior Change

One of my personal favorite parts of this book is when James Clear discusses the Three Layers of Behavior Change. Clear stresses the significance of using identity-based habits rather than outcome-based habits to achieve your goals and become a better person (Clear, 2018, p. 31). Below I will describe the difference between these methods of behavior change and describe how I can use this in my science classroom:

Identity-based habits

  • Focuses on who we wish to become
  • Grows outward (identity -> outcomes)
  • Helps us improve ourselves

Outcome-based habits

  • Focuses on what we want to achieve
  • Grows inward (outcomes -> identity)
  • Helps us reach a specific goals

Based on the list above, it is notably better to use identity-based habits over outcome-based habits whenever possible in the classroom! Encouraging this type of behavior will help students realize it is not about the direct outcome (for example a grade on a test (though we as educators must realize the importance of grades as well)) but rather, it is about how one’s actions and learning habits will serve them for the rest of their lives.

Figure 1. The layers of behavior change (Clear, 2018, p.30).

A Lesson Plan for Thought on Identity vs. Outcome Based Habits:

So you might be thinking: this is great, but how do I infuse this into my science classroom? One idea is to give your students a long-term project such as growing a plant from a seed. To do this successfully, students will have to come into class every day and tend to the needs of their growing plant. If their goal was just to make the plant sprout and then dispose of it, then you have reached an outcome-based habit with your student. When the student strives to keep this plant going and works hard every day to bring the plant to adulthood, then your student has accomplished an identity-based habit. In other words, at the end of the day it isn’t about completing the assignment but about bringing a healthy living thing into the world.

Just 1% Better…

In life, I think many of us have good intentions of becoming a better person. Each new year, we might tell ourselves this is the year we are finally going to learn to play the guitar, learn a new language, or lose unhealthy body fat. But is it just me or do these overarching resolutions rarely seem to happen?

We want to become better, but we tell ourselves when we fail that “life just gets in the way” and try to make excuses to ourselves and others as to why we did not reach our goals.

Fortunately, James Clear proposed a new way of thinking…if you focus on getting just 1% better every day, you will end up being nearly 37 times better after a year (Clear, 2018).

“Success is the product of daily habits–not once-in-a-lifetime transformations.”

Clear, 2018, p. 18.
Figure 2. This graph shows how small changes over time can amount to an astronomical improvement (Clear, 2018, p.16).


A Lesson Plan for Getting Just 1% Better

One way to use the idea of getting just 1% better each day in your science classroom is by setting up a healthy and friendly competition for students. For instance, I could divide my students into 2 teams at the beginning of the year. Over the course of the year, based on their level of participation and enthusiasm in the course, students would be awarded points for their team. In the classroom, a whiteboard would show each team’s points and ways to participate to generate more points for their team. At the end of the year, the team with the highest points would receive a reward. However, I think I will have to use caution in this activity to not make it all about the points for students… students should focus on getting 1% better each day and when they do that, they will also receive points. If I sense students are getting overly oriented towards the points and not improving themselves, I will have to modify this activity.

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Racing to The Margins

What are the margins?

Merriam-Webster’s definition of “margin” is. “the part of a page or sheet outside of the main body of printed or written matter.” This definition fits perfectly with what it means to teach in the margins. Teaching in the margins means going outside of the norm, or traditional way of teaching, to be able to explore the margins; outside of the box.

How do we teach in the margins?

As Dr. Ann E. Haley-Oliphant wrote, “our goals as teachers should be to make science as interesting, personal, and relevant as possible to our students”– heres’s a few ways for us, as teachers, to ensure we take our students to the margins:

  • Encourage student to ask questions, rather than just answering them.
  • Show them how to use what they’re learning and connect it to life outside of the classroom.
  • Allow students to lead discussions and form their own opinions.

As these three points defy most everyone’s schooling experiences, this is a wonderful thing; for both you, and your students! By encouraging to ask questions, leading discussions, and showing them how to use what they know, you’re setting them up for great success in and out of your classroom. By teaching in the margins, students will start to live life in the margins.

What makes teachable moments, teachable moments?

Most often, teachable moments are something that can happen at anytime, and completely unexpected. During these teachable moments, it gives teachers an opportunity to give insight to their students– these moments don’t always have to do with your class or even school, many teachable moments are about life and experiences. These moments come completely out of the blue, maybe while you’re teaching, demonstrating, or having a class discussion; these moments are totally unplanned for… These are opportunities that we don’t want to miss and we should embrace them when they happen!

“Margins are connecting bridges for the environment of he classroom.”

-Dr. Ann E. Haley-Oliphant

What makes a good teacher great?

In the TED Talk below, Azul Terronez, is curious to find out, what makes a good teacher. Throughout this video, Terronez talks about how we need to learn with our students– a great teacher isn’t always in the classroom. Our students want to see us learn in margins; where we aren’t just lecturing, and acting like we know absolutely everything. I believe this video provides ways for us to be in the margins with our students and how to connect with them on a personal level as well!

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Teaching to the Margins: Into the Unknown

Margins, What Are They?

Ecologically speaking, margins are areas that sit directly between two distinct ecological areas. Where a forest meets a beach. Where a field meets a road. Where a desert meets a mountain. These areas are studied by many scientists due to their aptitude for diversity of life as well as challenges to life.

In margins organisms are constantly being challenged in their everlasting struggle for survival. Sitting between two ecological areas means that organisms likely will get too little or too much of certain nutrients they need for life. A plant that lives on the edge of a beach and a forest may find it difficult to get their roots in soil due to large amounts of sand.

However, from this struggle, organisms adapt and change, and diversity is found. The challenges these organisms are presented with force them to make changes and grow in unique ways, unlike any other plants before.

With the concept of margins, there is also the concept of centers. Places furthest away from margins where all is the same. The best example of this would be the middle of a corn field. There’s no diversity of life in the middle of a cornfield, it’s just…corn, as far as the eye can. Although margins present challenges, centers are dangerous in their own right. A disease or bacteria that starts in the middle of a cornfield will be difficult to control because all the organisms in the field are unchallenged and never needed to adapt against such challenges.

Ok … So Why Are You Talking About This On An Educational Blog?

The concept of margins can easily be translated very easily to an educational setting. When explaining I think it best to start in the center, in our metaphorical corn field. In the center of education, students are unchallenged. Every student acts and is treated the same, every teacher acts and is treated the same, every school day is slogged through the same.

The typical class in the center of education looks like this:

  1. Students walk into class.
  2. Teacher lectures in front of them basically quoting the textbook.
  3. Students leave.

Fun….

And in the same way the classroom in the center can fall apart just as easily as the cornfield. Students are given particularly difficult test, the teacher says something wrong, or (god forbid) the text book is wrong, all can lead to the class falling apart.

So what do we do? We move to the margins of the classroom. The classroom moves to the margins by investigating concepts and ideas that no one knows much about. The class follows their curiosity, they develop solutions to problems, they do their own research and studies.

That sounds really difficult to pull off, though. Which is exactly what we want. In ecology, the margins are challenging areas to live in, they require adaptation. Which is the perfect way for the class to learn. They walk into class everyday, knowing they will face something that will require them to think like they’ve never thought before. They struggle, they fail, a lot, and then finally they break through, they bloom and add to that beautiful diversity in the margin.

Notice I’ve been saying the class this whole time, not the students. The class includes the teacher. Students can’t go to the margins if the teacher isn’t there with them, otherwise it’s not really a margin. If the teacher knows all the answers then they themselves aren’t being challenged, then it just becomes multiple “teachable moments.” If the teacher is there struggling and adapting with their students, then it’s a team effort, they are growing together. In the margins everyone is taking the educational journey, including and especially the teacher.

Some Thoughts on How I Can Incorporate the Margins In My Classroom

One way I plan on bringing my class to the margins is by incorporating other subjects into lessons and activities. Instead of just lecturing about Isaac Newton, have discussion of the time period Newton made his discoveries in, why he was able to make his discoveries, what other discoveries were being made at the same time.

Another way to bring my class to the margins is by presenting students with current sciences news and discoveries. I plan to discuss these topic with my students, ask them to find solutions to problems we have, like global warming and renewable energy.

I have to say, I’m worried I won’t be able to teach my content effectively in the margins. High school physics doesn’t relate much to current sciences topics and can often come off as rigid and unchanging. However, these thoughts are exactly why I have to dive into the margins with my students. It will be difficult to figure out how to teach my students in the margins, so I’ll need to adapt along with them. Grow along with them.

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The Magic is in the Margins

Are you teaching in the moment or in the margins?

This is a very important question to educators need to ponder through out their teaching career, which I plan on revisiting this question by the end of this blog post. So what do I mean by teaching in the moment vs. teaching in the margins? This distinction is the difference between genuine learning and grazing the surface in the classroom.

From: https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/proxy/BttB_B26HJqvxoKp-LcmHQFqym5U0dnUI75wmYf1B1RR25NpT5BFdruaODa1bc7zJ0Zn3exxkUa3kp6qXVB5Oi14UDHw0-vDS0pm2g_ynHroY3q9kAcANKV_OKxMKtE0iCAbyw

Teachable Moments

In the classroom, there are so many opportunities for teaching in the moment. There might be a fantastic discussion going on in the classroom and all of the students are engaged. This would be considered a teachable moment. Teachable moments are those that come about in the heat of curiosity or in the lull of confusion. These moments are prompted, expected. They are, no doubt, an incredibly important part of teaching, but teachable moments are only a small part of teaching in the margins.

Teaching in the Margins

The word “margin” is defined as “an area, state, or condition excluded from or existing outside the mainstream” by the Merriam-Webster dictionary. In the classroom, this is the atmosphere of genuine inquiry and unaccustomed academic development. Teaching in the margins of the classroom entails operating outside the box of expected responses and controlled thinking. Teachable moments may occur in the teaching atmosphere of the margins, but teaching in the margins is more of a setting to operate your classroom rather than just a defined moment in class. Teaching in the margins would be pushing your students to talk about some of pressing issues that seem like taboo topics in other settings of their daily lives; particular to science, an educated discussion about climate change and its repercussions takes place in the margins of the classroom. The margins are a place of growth and substantial learning for both the students and their teachers.

How to Teach in the Margins

  1. Encourage students to say how they feel on a particular subject
    • Students need to feel comfortable to be uncomfortable in the margins of the classroom. If they feel that their opinions or thoughts will be judged, they will be less inclined to participate and thus will not be able to flourish in the discussion.
  2. Be comfortable with being uncomfortable
    • Not even in a perfect world will all people agree on everything. We, as educators, need to facilitate discussion that push students to share their own opinions/thoughts in a respectful and educated manner which will allow their peers and teachers to learn from their point of view. It is okay to have differing opinions, to not know something, and to consider changing your original beliefs on topics. This is all part of teaching in the margins.
  3. Encourage students to be open to changing their minds
    • Another way students can feel comfortable with being uncomfortable is to allow themselves to take other’s thoughts into account. Urge them that it is okay to change their minds on a topic. Allow yourself as an educator to be affected by your students thoughts; be open to changing your mind too.
from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=shUUc2pKsww

Real learning and genuine curiosity occurs in the margins of the classroom. The place where discussion can lead to “new areas, worlds, places, and potentialities” (Haley-Oliphant, 102). So, I ask again, are you teaching in the moment or are you teaching in the margins?

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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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Limit Testing: A Look On Teaching In the Margins

“[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.”


Ann Haley-Oliphant
Source: https://images.unsplash.com/photo-1414589530802-cb54ce0575d9?ixlib=rb-1.2.1&ixid=eyJhcHBfaWQiOjEyMDd9&w=1000&q=80

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

Teachable Moments:

  • 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
This video provides a great example of how educators who teach by the margins make a significant impact towards their students
My thoughts on the positives of teaching in the margins! Students are more willing to break past their limits if teachers are invested in doing the same. They will recognize when their teacher is giving 110% towards their education.
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Dare to venture out into the Margin

Imagine yourself as a sailor upon a ship venturing out over the sea. You and your fellow crewmates lay about lazily as the sun beats down. A mild breeze slowly pushes the ship along while the water barely becomes disturbed. Suddenly a storm of curiosity approaches sending up waves of questions and inquiry. The crew jumps to their positions stabilizing the ship as it gets pulled in every which way. Using their knowledge and experiences to help the ship make it through the storm.

We can look at the classroom in this way. The sea represents the material and how it is presented to the class. When a teacher teaches towards the “center”, lecturing, doing assignments out of the book, providing examples, they aren’t really engaging with the students. This is the class lazily being pushed along by the wind. Whereas in the “margins” students have the opportunity to be more engaged. Their classroom is pushed along by their understandings and inquiry to get through the material. Like in a storm where the sailors participate in order to get through unscathed.

How to Truly Be in the Margins

So from our metaphor one may think that to be in the margins means to bring high energy and chaos to the classroom to bring into focus attention of the students into participation. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

The motion of the sea in our example is simply representative of each opportunity that is brought to the students. With doing things by the book and lecturing there’s not much thinking going on in students’ heads as they simply try to memorize what’s being thrown at them to regurgitate it at a later date. Being in the margins gives students a diverse environment from which opportunities present themselves because that’s what it is, flooding the environment with all kinds of stimuli that get the students thinking and engaged.

Here we can see an example of teaching within the margin that really brings out inquiry in students.

In this video we can see how the students come up with their own devices to test which pods are eggs and and which are seeds. They’re given multiple stimuli to interact with such as the water testing if the pods sink or float, testing with dirt to see which will grow, or testing different ingredients to create the ideal paint.

I hear it, I forget; I see it, I remember; I do it, I understand (Chinese Proverb)

Isn’t teaching in the moments just a collection of teachable moments?

No, simply because the margin defines our environment for learning. In the metaphor say the teacher, represented by the captain, leads the crew by calling out orders to make sure the ship still stays on course, guiding it through the rough waters. Suddenly they see a large wave about to collide with the ship. Seeing it as a teachable moment they yell to the first mate identifying the issue then retreat to their cabin and the crew come up with their own methods for avoiding the wave. The captain hasn’t abandoned the crew but has stepped back to see them demonstrate their own knowledge. They then quickly come back out, assess the aftereffects, and give out more advice.

To realize if we are in the margins we have to look at the environment to see if:

  1. The learning experience is enrichened by the lesson
  2. New opportunities for learning present themselves through the lesson
  3. Students are being challenged by needing to immerse themselves to understand the lesson
  4. The experience may be seen as trivial at first, but reveals its beauty when in practice for new understanding
  5. Opportunities for risk and chance manifest themselves to benefit the learner from an unpredictable environment.
  6. It creates a relatable experience to the student where change, diversity, and difference can be explored.

A Future Classroom

As an up and coming life sciences/chemistry teacher I’ve got to start looking ahead at how I can steer my class through the margins. Possibilities are:

  • Taking students outside to document the local fauna and flora such as the insects and flowers that inhabit the area.
  • Designing labs that require students in groups to collectively brainstorm in how to reach the conclusion.
  • Doing titration experiments to display the relationship between acids and bases.
  • Perhaps studying the effects of algae on a local pond and determining whether it is beneficial to the ecosystem or harmful. Then maybe how to remove it if harmful.

The point to all of these examples is getting the students out of their regular lecture routines and into environments where they can be challenged and demonstrate their knowledge and ability to learn. It’s our duty as teachers to bring out the best in our students. Meaning it is your responsibility to teach in the margins. Remember to always be looking for the next storm.

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The Margins: Where True Learning Happens

For many years, teachers have been taught to teach what is in their curriculum and to steer away from classroom diversions. Teachers may have been told to avoid difficult conversations, controversial topics, and perhaps even what is happening in the world. I am here to express my belief that this is wrong and even detrimental to true learning facilitation.

I hope you share the same concerns as I do about this practice… As teachers, I believe we not only should be willing to face the unexpected in the classroom, but embrace the unexpected in the classroom. In other words, we should strive to teach in the margins.

Teaching in the margins is not an easy task. Going to the margins in a science classroom will involve risks, it will challenge science, and it could even explore unknown territories for both the students and the teacher.

Although margins embody risk, margins make for great places to teach and experience science first hand.

Teaching in the Margins vs. Teachable Moments

Being in the margins and “teachable” moments in the classroom are not the same thing. To be in the margins, you are purposefully stepping out of the classroom comfort zone and into the unknown. In the margins, teachable moments absolutely could occur, but a teachable moment (though unpredictable) does not necessarily mean you are entering the margins of the classroom.

Teaching in the Margins

  • Can be led by the teachers and the students!
  • Can be unpredictable, but also can be implemented in a lesson
  • May lead to curiosity and passion

Lesson Plans for Going to the Margins:

  1. Open Ended Chemistry Labs: the use of open ended labs where students are tasked to explore overarching questions and think deeply can help bring the class to the margins. Avoid labs that are all procedural-based and do not leave room for inquiry!
  2. Innovative Objects: bringing a cool, uncommon science object in for the class to play with and think about can help bring the class to the margins. One way to do this is a Van de Graff generator! Help students have fun and explore electricity at the same time.

Teachable Moments

  • Usually led by the teacher
  • Ends after a cut-and-dry answer
  • Does not embrace curiosity
  • Usually unpredictable

Stepping into the Margins in my Science Classroom

Clearly, teaching in the margins is essential to being an exemplary teacher helping to stimulate curiosity, passion, and engagement in the classroom.

Some ways I want to bring students to the margins in my class:

  • When possible, I want to guide my students away from standards and the curriculum and encourage them to think how science impacts their lives and futures
  • I hope to give my students autonomy in discussion and encourage all students to participate. In the margins, it is risky but a there is a huge pay off to grow!
  • I will bring current events into the classroom (not out of the classroom!) to connect real life with what we are learning.
  • I will learn with my students and embrace the idea that there are still many things for us to learn.
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Embracing the Power of Margins in the Science Classroom

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” – Robert Frost

Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken,” is incredibly powerful and is often referenced in numerous circumstances. Here I challenge you to apply Frost’s beautiful prose to the teacher has who dares to teach in the margins.

What are the margins?

This picture depicts the natural margins between the land and the beach.
Source: https://www.nps.gov/articles/coastal-sediments-parent-material.htm
  • Margins are a space of diverse intersectionality, on the outside of orthodoxy and normalcy.
  • In nature margins occur where the land meets the sea, where the road meets the grass line, where deserts meet the brush.
  • In the classroom, margins occur when…
    • There is student driven questioning and discussions
    • Lessons are planned to be relevant and personal to the students
    • Flexibility is practiced by students and teachers alike
    • Lessons are led (at least in part) through inquiry.

Why should educators dare to teach in the margins?

  • Margins allow for the development of creativity and critical thinking skills within students and teachers alike.
  • Margins allow for the enrichment of the curriculum, allowing students to gain deeper understanding and knowledge of topics presented.

Teaching in the Margins is Exemplary Teaching.
When an educator teaches within the margins, they actively engage with student-driven activities to deepen understanding and connection with the topic, all the while, developing their students’ creativity and critical thinking skills.


Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/07/learning/lesson-plans/making-it-relevant-helping-students-connect-their-studies-to-the-world-today.html

Teaching in the margins allows for teachers to elevate their students to a new plane of understanding and challenges their notions of what science “is” to the wonders of what is “can be.”

STEM at MCMS have created a short video on what it can mean to teach in the margins along with real world examples of what this can mean in the science classroom. I challenge you to watch this video and see how teaching in the margins bolsters student learning and drives further science curiosity.

Have you watched? It’s evident that students and teachers alike deeply benefit from this exercise!

Teachable moments and teaching in the margins are two separate things, but they are both valuable in their own regard.

  • Teachable moments: occur spontaneously. They are exactly what the name portrays them as: moments. They occur closely related to the curriculum.
  • Teaching in the margins: can occur spontaneously or not spontaneously. This occurs through exploring in more depth the outskirts of the curriculum.

Source: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Embrace-The-Teachable-Moments

How can teaching in the margins be applied within my classroom?

  • If during a unit in Physics concerning Electricity and Magnetism (P.EM)…
    • The “center” of the class would be lectured content about the theory and math behind magnetism
    • Going into the margins, my students would explore…
      • Posed Class Questions: How do different magnets work differently? How can we explore the magnetic field? How are we affected by magnets?
      • Hands-On Student Involvement: This would be completed through making our own electromagnet and playing with different shaped magnets. This would also include diving into their own worlds and researching different ways in which magnets are used in everyday life.
Source: http://sainspc4.blogspot.com/2013/04/magnets.html
  • If occurring in a biology classroom…
    • The “center” of the class would be discussing diversity and the interdependence of life.
    • Going into the margins, my students would explore…
      • Classroom pets and plants. The ability to care for and maintain different environments for the plants and animals alike would give new perspective and meaning to what ecosystems are what biodiversity is. Both plants and animals alike could prompt students to think deeper and connect lessons about loss of diversity and their classroom turtle or their classroom bell pepper plant!
Source: http://pokenwright.com/blog/whats-being-learned-here-the-class-pets-project/

I hope you will join me as I strive to teach in the margins. Join me in taking the road less traveled, because it will make all the difference for our students and ourselves.

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Margins- Exploring the Mysteries of Life with our Students

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I wanted to start with this quote from former Civil Rights Leader & U.S Rep, John Lewis. This quote has a lot of applicability to many scenarios in our political and social world, but I think it can extend to teaching in the margins as well. Going to the margins means taking risks alongside our students, and engaging in science in a way that is truly authentic. I think getting into good and necessary ‘trouble’ in the science classroom can look like so many different things because the margins are an unknown territory, due to the authentic nature of student curiosity (or teacher initiation) that drives its’ destination. Margins are where student exploration and creativity will explode. These unknown places are where there is potential to know through the process of inquiry. Allowing students to engage in the “how’s?” and straying away from the “what’s?” are a good indication you’re giving your students the opportunity to head to the margins. So buckle up!

What does teaching in the Margins look like?!

I created this diagram to help explain what teaching in the margins means. In this diagram, the margins are depicted as the edge, the place that only exists because of its surroundings (Margins cannot exist without the center of instruction). If you can visualize margins as a place for potential and possible growth, imagine someone pinching & stretching out the spot where the margins reside (blue triangles), eventually both bubbles will get bigger and bigger. By spending time in the margins there is now more room created for knowledge and action. The center of instruction also grows, and it becomes healthier when the margins push to new possibilities. Margins are the connecting points between knowledge and action, teachers and students, students and students, and students and content.

Margins in nature…

In This Ted Talk below, Karen Maeyens explores the power of asking questions. She explains how asking questions can have a snowball effect, generating more questions, and more things to be curious about. Asking questions are a great way to embark on a journey to the margins! This can be done in all aspects of life, including the science classroom. She discusses how asking questions can lead us to creating our own, innovative maps in which we investigate. Maeyens sends a powerful message about how being curious and asking questions can take us to diverse areas to explore and make sense of our surrounding world.

How might we embark on this journey to the margins?

In the words of Lady Gaga! 🙂
  1. Asking students questions or their opinions about scientific issues
    1. “What method would you use to locate correct data for COVID-19 numbers?”, “Why does it matter where we get this data from?”, “How can schools/business use this data to help inform their decisions to operate safely amid a nation pandemic?”
    2. “How can we, as a class, do our part to reduce our impacts on climate change?”, “Why should we engage in these practices?”
  2. We can encourage discussions within our students that extend content lessons
    1. For example: after talking about how certain organisms blend in with their environment as a defense mechanism (camouflage), we then put students into small groups and have them come up with an example of an organism that does this, and they can investigate and research why and how this organism does this or other questions they want to explore to deepen their understanding of this scientific phenomenon.
  3. Put animals in our classrooms- This will spark compounding questions that students can generate off their own curiosity. This will be a great starting point to inquire alongside our students. Some of these students Q’s could look like:
    1. “Why do lizards shed their skin?”
    2. “Why do our two class beta fish have to be in separate tanks when ur two class goldfish can be together?”

Posted in Misc, Teaching in the Margins | Tagged , | 4 Comments